So you can read my books

Thursday, December 6, 2012


At my table in Meilori's, I scowled at the page on the long yellow pad with reams of crossed out words.  A lean shadow loomed over me.  I looked up.  The ghost of Ezra Pound, his eyes glittering with intensity, nodded.

"May I sit down?  I warn you that it is said of me: "Pound is a cat that walks by himself, is tenaciously unhousebroken and is very unsafe for children."

I motioned to the chair opposite me.  "Hemingway in 1925 also wrote of you:
"He defends his friends when they are attacked, he gets them into magazines and out of jail. 

He writes articles about them. He introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their books.

He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying.  He advances them hospital
expenses and dissuades them from suicide."
His eyes deepened into hard memories.  "I ... I have done terrible things."

I said, "And wonderful ones.  We all chart our course in the dark, aiming for dim shores we only think we see."

Ezra smiled sadly and sat down, gesturing to my pad.  "With what are you having so much difficulty?"

"Writing to my friends on the importance of character in crafting your book."

"Ah, that is your first mistake, my young friend. There is no book. Whoever touches a manuscript touches a man."

He stroked his thin mustache. 

“The artist is always beginning. Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery is of little worth. So it is with the characters in your book.  They must be beginning, growing.  In each chapter, they must be slightly different from who they were in the prior pages, else they are but cardboard dolls never living for the reader."

Ezra stared intently in my eyes.  "Characters are the heart and soul of a piece of fiction. Through characters a problem arises, a plot is developed, relationships are formed and conversations take place.

Characters will also help develop themes, symbolism and morals in the story. As such, you will want readers to either love your characters or love to hate them."

Ezra tapped my yellow pad. "The importance of characters in works of fiction cannot be overly stressed, my young friend. They are what make us connect to the story and the plot that unfolds. Without them you have nothing and with characters of truth, you have the beginnings of everything."

His smile flashed like deadly lightning.  "Let me illustrate:

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal.

Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.” 

He smiled quickly.  "Can you not see her, Roland?  Was Bella Swan not real to you?"

I sputtered, "Bella Swan of TWILIGHT?"

"The very one, the truly wretchedly crafted non-person of that insipid series.  She may well be the most profitable cardboard doll ever botched in the effort of trying to create an intriguing character."

"A Mary Sue is what writers call her."

Ezra's face wrinkled as if the words he heard tasted bad to his ears.  "Roland, you write in a very dangerous field: fantasy."

He tapped the table lightly.   "Take the dehumanised villains we see most commonly in Fantasy genres, who are typically dehumanised by ‘The Dark Side’ or ‘The Ring of Power’ or are simply not even human to start with,

And you see why a character, flawed but yearning to be better, provides a much more complex and morally ambiguous story.

At no point in THE LORD OF THE RINGS do we begin to sympathise with Sauron, because we have no reason to make a human connection with him. Even when writers try to explain why people turn evil; as Tolkien does with Saruman, they still end up being so comically villainous as to destroy any human connection that has been established."

Ezra seemed to look backwards into his own life and sighed, "They keys to a well characterised Antagonist are essentially the same as the keys to a well characterised Protagonist:

 well intentioned, but flawed, internally consistent, but most importantly in this case, well explained.

 For the audience to sympathise with an Antagonists it is vitally important that they understand why he is trying to cause such havoc.

We might not necessarily agree with his point of view, but if we at least understand where he is coming from, he no longer appears to be an intangible object in the way of the protagonist’s progress towards victory, but rather a human who has suffered and has come to terms with the suffering in the wrong way."

His eyes grew haunted. 

"Wrong way," he said in words of a rasping, buzzing quality like the sound of a hornet stuck in a jar.

He buried his face in the taunt fingers of one trembling hand.  "My own work does not make sense. A mess ... my writing, stupidity and ignorance all the way through ....   I found after 70 years that I was not a visionary, not even a lunatic but a moron."

As one hopes grace will one day fall down upon you, Alice Wentworth (think Elle Fanning as a zombie Jane Eyre) sat beside Ezra, touching his arm gently.

"Oh, do not speak so.  That is but the voice of your bruised dreams speaking.  You must look beyond your hurts to the wisdom they have brought you."

"Wisdom, ghoul?"

Her face flinched as if slapped.  "Yes, I am ghoul as you are ghost."

Her eerie eyes struggled past the sting into forgiveness.  "There are secrets only the undead may know."

He grunted drily, "What secrets?"

"That what seems so real: the flashing gleam of the bayonet; the hard promise of gold coins; the tender caress of a false lover's kiss ...."

Her voice lowered, " ... are but illusions of the fleeting moment."

She smiled as if her lips hurt.  "The whispery lamentations of loneliness; the invisible balm of true friendship; the forever hunger for acceptance ...."

Black tears filled her neon blue eyes.  "Sacred love which cannot be seen, yet cannot be denied nor be bought and thus cannot die ....  All of these are more real than the insubstantial lusts of the moment and will outlast the world."

Victor Standish sat with a flourish beside Alice who seemed to glow at the sight of the laughing gypsy.  "Yeah, the rich have butlers but no friends.  We have friends but no butlers."

He winked at Alice, "We have the better deal."

Ezra smiled slightly.  "You two give me hope."

Alice seemed to grow an inch, and I remembered what Victor once told me:

“None of us can ever save himself.  We are the path for one another’s salvation.  And only by the hope that we give others can we lift ourselves out of the darkness and into the light.”
{What importance do you place on the nature of your characters in your novels?} 


  1. The nature of the characters is what forms the basis for their decisons, and how they respond to events or other characters. I consider it an element of writing. It affects their believability.

    I haven't read any of Ezra Pound, even though I believe he was one of the Lost Generation.

  2. D.G.:
    Yes, exactly. Without properly motivated characters, your tale seems hollow. Ezra was his own worst enemy and was one of the truly lost of the Lost Generation.

    Thanks for visiting and staying to chat, Roland

  3. The characters are the story, and they must be real before the story even begins.