This post begins a new series I’ll be sharing each week surrounding characters that linger in my thoughts long after I’ve finished the book.
One of my main influences when I began writing was Stephen King. He’s incredibly talented in the art of character creation, filling his pages with complicated, flawed, unique individuals who burrow into my head and make me believe they’re real. They’re out there somewhere, living and breathing. Loving. Hurting. Laughing. I feel like I know them, and I miss them when their story ends.
One of my favorite books is The Stand.
First came the days of the plague. After the days of the plague came the dreams. Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil.
His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms…
This is a classic story of good verses evil, a post-apocalyptic setting after the human race all but destroys itself.
Although at least four of my all-time favorite characters live inside these pages, there’s one that stands out above the rest for me: Mother Abigail.
Here’s what I love about her. “I’m a hundred and six years old, and I still make my own bread.” She has so many traits to adore. First is that simple pleasures are all she needs to be happy. Her own home cooking. Sitting on her porch strumming her guitar. Looking out over the “home place” she saved when her brothers lost the rest of her father’s lands. She’s thankful for regular bowels. How can you not love her?
Second, is that she’s tenacious. She’s God’s proverbial magnet, drawing the few remaining “good” people left on the earth to her via their dreams, all while the Dark Man tries to frighten her away. She doesn’t view her old age as something that can stop her. Only a loss of faith can do that. Knowing the first of God’s chosen are about to arrive in Hemmingford Home, and being the woman she is, Mother Abigail braves the Dark Man’s creatures and treks for miles to fetch some chickens so she can provide the newcomers a hot meal. I mean, who would do that for their own family, let alone a bunch of strangers?
“Chicken’s a bit tough, but it’s tougher where there’s none.” It’s lines like this that add such depths to King’s characters. One bit of dialogue tells me who she is, that although she recognizes the hardships of life, she’s thankful for the blessings she still has and doesn’t dwell on the ones she doesn’t.
So we have the brave old woman who stands up to the Dark Man and his followers. It’s easy to believe she’s invincible, that nothing really stirs her emotions to the point it will break her. Until we see her weakness: the home place. As Mother Abigail and the chosen ones prepare to move on to meet the rest of the survivors, we see her lose composure for the first time as she’s forced to say goodbye to the only home she’s ever known. It’s fleeting, but it’s powerful. That scene made her real to me. Under all of her grit, an emotional woman exists, one who feels deeply even though she does a good job of hiding it most of the time. It isn’t enough to make her abandon the important task she’s been given, but enough to allow us a glimpse of her soul.
By offering this one character to tie the rest of the cast together, the captivating way she interacts with and encourages them, Stephen King hooked me on this book. The movie’s great, too. I’ve seen it about ::cough:: twenty times ::cough::.
What traits do you think make the most memorable characters? I’d love to hear your thoughts.