Friday, 6 October 2017


Often, I find biographies more entertaining than novels and, call me slow, but I have only just worked out why.

I was reading ‘Reach for the Sky’ which is a biography of the WWII fighter pilot and tactician Douglas Bader. Now, he is the sort of character that would grace any novel. Some people hated him, while others simply adored him. As a small child I met him and loved him. He was funny and friendly and very kind to a little girl. I know an ex-army officer who also met him, but hated him. He said he was cocky, brash and bullish. Both of us were right. Douglas Bader was all these things and more, and that is what makes reading about him so entertaining.

Writers should not only include dynamic people in their stories. The world is full of those who, on the face it of it, seem pretty dull, but even they should not be 2D. Such people still need unexpected or thought-provoking characteristics to make them worthy of a place in a book.

When teaching characterisation in schools and universities, I sometimes ask the students to think of somebody they admire and tell me one bad trait about that person. I then do the same with an appalling individual and ask for a good trait. One junior school child suggested that Adolf Hitler had no redeeming features. I pointed out he was kind to dogs. The child was stunned. Hitler was evil; we all know that; he could not possibly have any good points! But he did.

Without WWII, it is doubtful we would have been interested in Adolf Hitler or Douglas Bader, but their dogged determination and ruthless need to win made one a monster and the other a hero. They are genuinely 3D, but it was the circumstances that made them so interesting. As writers, we must never forget how the setting and the plot can bring interesting characters alive.

I will continue reading novels and, for the most part, enjoy them, but it is only when I read many-sided 3D characters in the correct setting and plot that I will be lost in a world created by the writer.


Mystica said...

Thank you for the review on a book which is new to me!

Lynne Benton said...

Brilliant post, Val! Very thought-provoking.

Val Tyler said...

I highly recommend it, Mystica.

Thank you, Lynne.

Rowena House said...

Lovely post & a very timely reminder - reminded me of that invaluable insight that reluctant heroes are forced into the role by circumstances rather than making an active choice to go out and do what's necessary. Gave fresh perspective & impetus to the WIP. Thank you!