Memorable Characters in Books and in Life

characterI spent most of January with the Brothers Karamazov. They discussed philosophy and psychology while I just sat there and listened. Sometimes we laughed together.

I still think about them and that makes me wonder why. What makes some characters so memorable? The Brothers Karamazov were pretty strange and they did contradict themselves a lot. They didn’t know who to love or what to believe in and while trying to figure these things out, they ended up tormenting themselves. It seemed like Dostoevsky was making fun of his characters and that made the whole story more interesting and even laughable at times.

Not all characters can be strange, but they should be unique in some way. It also helps if something about a character is a little mysterious so that the reader will want to figure that character out. Death in The Book Thief is memorable for that reason, but maybe also just because he’s Death.

Other memorable book characters have been Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath or Scarlett O’Hara (so memorable that I don’t have to name the book for that one). Their struggles become our struggles as we see them fight against starvation and a changing society. Atticus Finch has his own obstacles to overcome, but he’s known more for his patience and ability to explain complicated issues.

In real life, any characters I’ve known aren’t as memorable for their struggles as they are for their personalities. They’re either funny or adventurous or different in some way, and they help me see the world in a different way too.

What are some of your favorite book or real-life characters? Why are they memorable?

One Hundred Fifty Years Later, Charles Dickens Is Making Me Laugh

Dickens’ Dream photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It amazes me that anyone can pick up a book and read the words and thoughts of someone who lived hundreds of years ago.

Classic literature isn’t always treated with the reverence it deserves. Some may describe it as boring or outdated. Yet it can teach us so much, not only about history, but about ourselves.

I didn’t think A Tale of Two Cities would make me laugh as much as it has so far. But it does make me laugh because much of what Dickens describes is still relevant today. He shows that people can be funny, whether they know it or not (and whether they want to admit it or not). To show you what I mean, here are a few passages:

“Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing downhill almost to his broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith’s work, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over.”

“The mildewy inside of the coach, with its damp and dirty straw, its disagreeable smell, and its obscurity, was rather like a larger dog kennel. Mr. Lorry, the passenger, shaking himself out of it in chains of straw, a tangle of shaggy wrapper, flapping hat, and muddy legs, was rather like a larger sort of dog.”

“Cramped in all kinds of dun cupboards and hutches at Tellson’s, the oldest of men carried on the business gravely. When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books…”

Dickens is famous for his characters. For any writers who might be struggling with character description, I’d recommend reading one of his books. Not only is he entertaining, but he tackles the “show, don’t tell” rule in a very fun way.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. Luckily, we can still laugh with and learn from people who lived hundreds of years ago.

What are some of your favorite classics? Which authors make you laugh?