I love characters who take the long view. They have a radiance that draws me to them. They can be immersed in the action of a book. They can be full of pain, yet they transcend their own suffering and think outside the boundaries of their skin. Battle scenes are full of them. They are unforgettable.
Most of my favorite books have at least one long-view character. But sometimes there’s more than one, like Atticus and Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.
When long-view characters recur in a series—like Anne Perry’s Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould—it’s a real bonus for me and I re-read the scenes where she stars.
Here are some of their characteristics:
- Long-view characters see what others do not, like the blind Tiresias or Cassandra in The Trojan Women. Or Miss Marple.
- Long-view characters remind me of the voice in the Book of Wisdom. They are seldom rattled.
- Long-view characters are believable, even if they’re supernatural or paranormal.
- Sometimes they’re children, wise beyond their years.
- Sometimes they’re wise because of their age and experience.
- They are successful creations—I mean, they’re lovable characters.
- They can be the narrator or the sidekick or maybe a character who appears late in the story.
- They can be an ordinary character who has moments of transcendence.
- And yet they’re at the heart of the action, adding dimension, dodging bullets, touching the plot and moving it in surprising ways, like the Great God Brown in Lord Jim.
- Along with moving the plot, they hurl meaning to a new level.
- Almost always they reveal theme. So I listen to their words.
In a mystery, the long-view character acts as an enabler, giving the struggling protagonist a eureka moment, letting her open doors that would otherwise be closed. But sometimes long-view characters morph into the perpetrator, enigmatic, deadly, if also tragic, suffering, and even lovable.
In the end, long-view characters help to make a book memorable and give us readers lots to chew on. Do you have a favorite?
Photo: Coney Island Mermaid. Credit: joe holmes (Flickr), Creative Commons.