Friday, July 24, 2015

WHAT MAKES CHARACTERS MEMORABLE

I first wrote this post under my pen name, Elaine Hussey, and it appeared on my website at www.elainehussey.com. So many people have asked for it again that I’m sharing it with you at Southern Magic.  

Some time ago I watched an old Clint Eastwood movie with my family -  Every Which Way But Loose.   Eastwood is such a gifted artist that watching his movies is always a pleasure.  He was good as the complex Philo, a guy who hangs out with a baboon.

But it was Ruth Gordon who stole the show. Feisty, salty, and funny, she commanded the screen.  She called herself a “helpless old lady” and proved herself to be anything but.  During the scene where Gordon uses her shotgun to deliver some comeuppance to a rowdy group of bikers, my son said, “She’s just like Mama Hussey.” 

Mama Hussey was my mother. And though she has been dead for more than seven years, everybody in the family still tells “Mama Hussey” stories. And, yes, she kept a shotgun under her bed. She knew how to use it, too.  Mama was the picture of a perfect Southern lady, always dressed to the nines, the more jewelry the better.  She loved good books, good movies and a good laugh. But let a stranger show up on her front porch after dark, and he’d find himself looking down the barrel of Mama’s shotgun.
Mama was larger than life. And so was Ruth Gordon’s character in Every Which Way But Loose.  But they had something else in common, too: they both reminded you of someone you know.  They were ordinary, approachable, and likeable, somebody to root for.  Full of spirit and big of heart.  Much like my Billie and Miss Queen (The Sweetest Hallelujah, July 30,2012)).   Billie and Miss Queen are perhaps the most memorable in a long list of characters I’ve created over a career that spans more than twenty-five years.

What about memorable bad guys, you ask? Of course, we remember Hannibal as the personification of evil. But it’s not the evil that makes him memorable: it’s his complexity - his relationship with Clarice, his longing for a window, his uncanny ability to get into the minds of the other characters and plant seeds of doubt and discontent.

There is much more to say about memorable characters, but I’ll leave that for another day. Meanwhile, I invite you to tell me about characters you remember, the ones you love to love and the ones you love to hate.


I also invite you to browse www.elainehussey.com to learn more about the characters in The Sweetest Hallelujah. You’ll find quotes from them throughout. The excerpt will give you a first glimpse of Billie, who will simply catch hold of your heart and not let go.

Peggy Webb is the USA Today Bestselling author of 75 books. She writes romance, women's fiction and mystery under this name and literary fiction as Elaine Hussey. Her latest novel is Stars to Lead Me Home. For more info, visit her website at www.peggywebb.com. 

3 comments:

Ali Hubbard said...

Tony Soprano is my favorite bad guy. On paper you would never root for him. But the way they developed him...I kind of did. Lol.

The characters in Thorn Birds have stuck with me for 35 years. So complex!





Suzanne Johnson said...

I can tell I would have loved Mama Hussey!

Memorable characters, for me, are characters so complex that you can come back to them at different points in your life and find something new that resonates. I think that's why GONE WITH THE WIND, to use one example, has endured. I have loved and hated Scarlett over the years, but she has never failed to fascinate me :-)

Jillian said...

Mamma Hussey sounds like a hoot! Great post