Thursday, March 07, 2013

Authors and their characters

A few weeks ago, while waiting for comments on my book,  I got addicted (not too strong a word) to a Swedish detective series, so addicted that it got in the way of my own writing and life.

When I reached the end of the series, I started the books, which weren't nearly as good -- not only because of the great acting on the show. The tv series was based on story ideas from the author, and it seemed to me that he had lightened up and allowed his hero to have and be things he hadn't given him in the books.

An interview in the Guardian said the author sounded "irritated" when he talked about his main character. The author admitted that he was irritated by him -- that he didn't even like him and his serious, pessimistic ways!

Maybe the actor playing the hero influenced the author's feeling. The second series started with the hero laughing at an outdoor party to celebrate something he'd wanted all his life and now had: a house by the sea. He'd bought a dog he loved--something he'd wanted for years. His colleagues were fond of him and he of them, he found a promising potential partner. Things were going far better for Wallander than they ever had.

So I was shocked and horrified by the hopeless ending of the most recent book, one written AFTER the second series. An even worse Epilogue said this was absolutely the end of the story, that the rest of the detective's life was his business and no one else's.

Maybe the author will relent -- a third Swedish series which I THINK takes place in time after the other two  will air sometime this year. Conan Doyle did after all kill off  Sherlock Holmes -- and then write more stories about him.

Final or not, though, this ending and epilog ended my addiction. I'm back into my own novel (and have stopped berating myself that it's not like this detective series, mine has something it doesn't: HOPE -- was it you, Alvina, have said that was one thing children's books had to have, and one thing that made them different from adult books, which might or might not end on a hopeful note?).

But Mankell did know how to create a character. It seems odd to me for an author not to like being possessed by a character he created. (I've always wished that would happen to me.) But I know some authors don't like it. Agatha Christie found Poirot a burden at times and used to have arguments with him:

"What IS an egg-shaped head, anyway?" she'd say.

Whether the authors like it or not, though, I bet that kind of possession is what creates characters who take on a life of their own, outside the book, in readers' heads and on TV and in movies, even  to people who have never read the books or seen the movies, but know who the characters are. And maybe that's what makes the authors bring them back to life, too, even after they've killed them off: the characters stubbornly refuse to die.

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