Creating characters that are believable is one of the greatest challenges facing a new writer. It’s the characters that we fall in love with in books–more so than any other element. And even if other elements stand out, such as the setting, it’s often because it has taken on the role of a character.
Take the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, an unnamed narrator tells the story but it’s the dead first wife–Rebecca–who is really in control. Here we have characterization so intense that even after death, Rebecca still reigns over her world–and the reader. Now the plot in this story is fantastic; I was completely fooled by the ending and immediately began reading it again to see how du Maurier had pulled the wool over my eyes so completely. Despite this, it’s the characters that haunt me all these years later.
How does du Maurier do it? I think it’s in how vulnerable and sympathetic the narrator comes across. She tugs at our heart strings. We want her to grow and become more confident. We want her to kick the dead Mrs. de Winters (and the very live Mrs. Danvers) in the butt and then slap her husband around. We cheer when she finally works up the courage to champion her own needs and desires.
Growth. Characters must grow and change as a result of the action of the story. The second Mrs. de Winters grows during the narrative–but so do the other main characters. Their growth makes them seem more real.