Friday, February 26, 2016

Caricatures V Characters

"Mr Chadband is a large yellow man with a fat smile, and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system." (Bleak House by Charles Dickens)

In literature, caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics or over simplification of others. Men do not have gargantuan noses or elephant ears. Neither do women possess bird faces and hourglass figures, but these descriptions paint potent pictures in the mind.

Used skillfully by authors such as Dickens, caricature can be very effective, but generally caricatures, particularly of main characters, are irritating to readers like myself who want more depth in the characters. I don't like superficial characters because they are not believable. If they are not believable, I cannot relate to them or connect with them. If I do not connect with the character, then I don't care what happens to them which in my opinion makes reading as worthwhile as staring at a blank wall.

Matthew Reilly's Jack West Jnr, who I met in The Six Sacred Stones, is a caricature. An implausibly gifted and powerful man who experiences credulity stretching good fortune. He is surrounded by people I have read about and seen in hundreds of other books and films. They are like cartoon characters who, as they get knocked off during the course of the never ending and unlikely scenes, arouse no more sympathy from me than if I accidentally crushed an ant under my size tens.

Another book I read recently was Memoirs of Pontius Pilate. Granted, the author Mills is dealing with an historical figure, but he nonetheless does a fantastic job of fleshing out a real person. There is almost no physical description of Pilate, but I felt that I knew him, and understood his actions. The man who sentenced Christ to death by crucifixion came across as a very sympathetic character.

I want to feel something when I read a work of fiction. I want to care. I want to love the hero or heroine, and hate the villain, but I also want to have good reason for doing so. Regardless of the setting, or the genre, if the author can make me care about at least one of the main characters, then they have won me. Whether they use caricature or characterization, or a deft combination of the two seems of little consequence.

On numerous occasions I have stopped reading a novel because I didn't care about, or even like any of the characters. 

What do you think? What is more important to you in a novel? Character? Setting? Action? Or something else?

* No criticism of Matthew Reilly is intended. He writes terrific action novels which just happen to not really be my cup of tea.

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