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June 10, 2014 by musehick

I have been reading a lot in the last week or so, and I had a realisation about how writers approach their characters and how that affects the way I feel about them. Reading Christine I saw how much Stephen King loves his characters – the heroes, the losers, the monsters … not a single one of them is treated with contempt. It helps you understand them more, and you know what? To humanise a monster and let you in to some area that you don’t see in the usual monsters you encounter, it makes them more convincing and scary in the end. Have a hateful character and show only that and what do you have? Something flat and unreal. Who is just good or evil? If it were that simple then choice would mean nothing – actually, good an evil would mean nothing. Some characters go through all kinds of shit and don’t break and some corrupt … this is human and believable. But even the more alien of the characters don’t just operate like automatons – to have a purpose you must arrive there via choices and choices can only be made by people who aren’t one way or the other … who aren’t just pigeonholed under good or evil.

Reading Martin Amis is different – usually the narrator is pretty non-intrusive and there is an opacity to the prose that lets you just view the character and his narrative as is, without any judgment getting in the way of your own decision making process. In The Information that was broken – I sense that Amis didn’t like any of his characters, and in fact there entered in a certain aloofness when handling them, and they began to diminish into mere grotesques. The unsatisfying ending aside, my main problem with the book was I didn’t like any of the characters, and it was because of the sneering way they and their lives were dissected. Perhaps this dissociation was a goal of the author, but the whole thing fell flat for me.

I read “literary” writers and “genre” writers in equal amounts, but I occasionally wonder if it is only the storytellers who acknowledge their need to honour the contract with the reader and provide a beginning, middle and end to a story. Avant Garde and experimental is fine, but, man, there’s needs to be some kind of pay-off … even if it isn’t some strict narrative wrapping up of all the strands of plot.

But writers need to find something they admire in their characters – how can you get in their heads if you sneer at them and handle them with tongs? I have to enjoy the characters and the writing of them, and in that enjoyment I think I imbue them with something more vital than I would get by sitting in judgment on them.

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