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  • Jeff Somers 9:04 pm on 2016/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , fictional characters, , , , , , , , ,   

    Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors 

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    It’s that time of year again, the magical, horrible month when authors, aspiring and otherwise, attempt to write an entire novel in 3o days. Some do NaNoWriMo for the challenge, some do it to finally check write novel off of their bucket lists, and some do it just for the experience. Whatever your reasons, it’s always one of the most difficult and most rewarding writing exercises of the year.

    NaNoWriMo is like a marathon: it requires a lot of inspiration to get you over the finish line. This can come in many forms, but every writer knows that fiction itself is the most nourishing thing a writer can take in. Here are five novels about fictional authors that have something to teach anyone trying to crank out a novel-length story between now and November 30.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Lesson: Fiction is Powerful Stuff

    Spoilers ahead!
    McEwan’s twisty novel tells the tale of Briony Tallis, bestelling author. As a child, Briony commits a terrible act that impacts those around her in awful ways. As time goes by, however, the victims of her immature mistakes recover and go on to live their lives, although they refuse to forgive Briony even as she declares her intentions to do what she can to make things right. The final, devastating twist reveals that Briony has been writing the story all along, and rewriting history to make it happier—in real life her victims never recovered and died young, unfulfilled. The lesson in Briony’s deception is dark and powerful: your experiences are just the inspiration for your stories. Dark or not, the things that inspire you to write don’t have to be rendered accurately. As a writer, you can change everything to suit your purpose, so don’t hesitate to embellish, deceive, and omit.

    Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
    Lesson: Novels Change Lives
    Kurt Vonnegut was a writer who somehow combined not taking himself seriously with powerful writing that still sparks arguments to this day. In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut’s alter-ego, writer Kilgore Trout (who appears in many of Vonnegut’s stories), travels to a low-rent convention in Ohio, where he’s destined to meet an insane fan who believes Trout’s speculative fiction is real. Vonnegut uses this premise, as always, to explore free will and existence in various absurd and darkly humorous ways, but the takeaway for anyone who finds themselves depressed and frustrated on, say, day thirteen of NaNoWiMo, is simple: what you write is like wild magic. Once it’s released into the world, you have no control over how it will affect other people. That sort of crackling, electric possibility should inspire anyone to finish what they’ve started.

    The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth
    Lesson: Think Before You Write

    Nathan Zuckerman may be Roth’s greatest creation, an author avatar who remains fascinating throughout nine novels. In the first of the Zuckerman Opus, Nathan struggles with something all writers should think about: balancing honesty with artistry. As Nathan struggles with the fallout from writing about his own Jewish community in a negative way (prompting questions of his responsibility to not fan the flames of anti-Jewish sentiment versus his need to be honest in his writing), every author working on a NaNoWriMo book should take the hint and ask themselves some honest questions about their inspiration, motivation, and how their work might affect their intimates and the community around them.

    The Dark Half, by Stephen King
    Lesson: Don’t Shy Away from Darkness

    Writing is confessional. In fact, the more you attempt to obscure the personal demons and angels that inspire your work, the more artificial it will seem to readers. King’s horror novel is, on the one hand, the story of a writer whose public works don’t sell well, but whose trashy crime novels written under a pseudonym sell like hotcakes. When he “kills off” his pseudonym, however, his dark half seems to come to life and launch a violent killing spree. You’ll have to read the book to find out if he’s crazy or if there’s some other explanation, but the takeaway for a NaNoWriMo writer is this: don’t fight your true muse. If there’s daylight between the books you think you should be writing and the books you’re actually inspired to write, use this month to indulge your id and just write whatever your Dark Half wants to write. You’ll be amazed how easy writing suddenly becomes.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    Lesson: Just Finish It

    Chabon, inspired by his own out-of-control manuscript, offers up Grady Tripp, a writer who has been working on his second novel for seven years, amassing more than 2,500 manuscript pages. That Grady Tripp should be the patron saint of NaNoWriMo might not be obvious; after all, the point of this month is to finish a novel. But reading about Grady’s increasingly disorganized and hectic life is precisely the sort of inspiration you need, because in a sense that unfinished novel is the cause of all of Tripp’s problems. Reading Wonder Boys right before NaNoWriMo will offer up all the inspiration you need to ensure that on Day 30, you’ll be typing THE END instead of allowing your novel to spiral off into a madness of endless revisions.

    The post Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2016/05/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , fictional characters, who wants a werther's?   

    The 5 Best Grandpas in Literature 

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    Becoming a grandparent is a remarkable experience that many people report as rejuvenating, bringing fresh purpose to people who have otherwise achieved their life goals and settled into a quieter time (Lesley Stahl recently published a whole book studying the phenomenon of grandparenting, researching its role throughout history and in the modern day, and it’s fascinating). While plenty of books have grandparents in them, most treat our parents’ parents as charming old folks who rarely have much to do with the plot. These five grandfathers, on the other hand, aren’t content to sit back and let the world pass them by—they are the plot.

    The Grandfather in The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
    Okay, he’s not actually in the book. But William Goldman wrote the screenplay adaptation, so we’ll accept him as canon, and he’s wonderful. As portrayed by Peter Falk, the curmudgeonly grandfather knows how to handle his young grandson expertly at bedtime, and proceeds to reel off what is likely the greatest bedtime story ever told. Falk’s grandfather remains a bit of a mystery to us, as very little is revealed about him aside from his obvious affection for his grandson and his kind of prickly demeanor, but you still feel like you know him, and very likely fervently want to have lunch with him just to listen to him tell a great story from Back in the Day and then probably give you some hard candy he’s got in the pockets of his sweater.

    Vito Corleone in The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
    Murderous, manipulative cancer on society? Sure, but Vito Corleone built a world-class criminal empire all in the service of providing for and securing his family. Having seen the damage done through vendettas in Sicily and then being forced to find his way through an unfamiliar society in America, Vito ruthlessly pursues power not as an aim in itself, but as a way to guarantee that his family is protected and inherits that power so they will never have to worry again. Unlike the grandfather in The Princess Bride, you might not want to have Vito creep into your room at night to read you a story, but he might not be a bad choice as grandfather if you’re, say, being bullied at school.

    Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    Agent of chaos, instigator, and genius slacker, Grandpa Joe has actually garnered quite a cult of Internet Hate in the modern age, as an old man who claims to be bedridden but can leap up and dance when a free tour of a chocolate factory is announced, as well as a leech who contributes nothing to an impoverished household but still secrets away “tobacco money.” Whether or not these actions make Joe a monster or a genius depends on your own attitude towards things like getting out of bed ever or holding a job ever, but it’s obvious innocent Charlie Bucket loves his grandpa and wouldn’t take anyone else on the factory tour. And since Charlie is proved to be worthy of inheriting the factory at the end because of his essential goodness and intelligence, you have to take his recommendation of his lazy, seemingly selfish grandfather at face value. Plus, Grandpa Joe is fun, demonstrating you’re never too old (or too covered in bedsores) to sing, dance, and eat candy until you pass out.

    Robert Jebediah “Granddad” Freeman in The Boondocks, by Aaron McGruder
    Granddad Freeman is a fantastic character. Grumpy, selfish, and constantly irritated, he has also lived a rich life filled with history, bravery, and adventure—even if there’s some question as to whether his stories of World War II heroism, involvement in the civil rights movement, and other adventures are completely truthful. While usually outraged by whatever his two grandsons get up to, Granddad obviously has grudging affection for them. He’s not perfect, and his reliance on corporal punishment is out of step with the modern world (as is Grandad himself) but any grandfather who has lived half the life Robert has would be an incredible man to have around the house.

    The Alm-Uncle in Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
    The classic tale of the World’s Most Cheerful Orphan is, in some ways, a redemption story for Heidi’s curt, taciturn, and embittered grandfather, The Alm-Uncle (a.k.a. Uncle Alp). At the beginning of the story he’s a man who has turned away from the world and from God, and initially it seems that his angry, unhappy little world will be a terrible place for Heidi to live. But her innocent, happy approach to a life that has pretty much been all lemons all the time soon moves him to a grudging affection, and after Heidi’s adventures in the city she helps him overcome his grief and anger and return to society and the local church congregation, by which time it’s clear the Alm-Uncle is a loving, supportive grandparent we’d all be lucky to have.

    Shop all fiction >

  • Jenny Kawecki 3:30 pm on 2016/04/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , fictional characters, love at first fight,   

    Ranking the Meet-Cutes of Classic Lit 

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    The classic meet-cute can be the best part of a love story, or the most cringe-worthy. The more awkward, quirky, or downright doomed the relationship seems from that first connection, the better the chance at true, happens-once-in-a-lifetime love—usually. At least in books. And while it may be a newish term, it has been happening for ages. To prove it, here are some of our favorite examples from classic lit, ranked from least to most swoony.

    10. Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare)
    Meeting at a party, hitting it off, and not realizing your families are mortal enemies? Yep, that’s a pretty standard rom-com start. And while Juliet totally holds up her end of the bargain with the witty banter, Romeo just comes across as a desperate teenage boy (which, to be fair, he is). Plus, of course, they totally botch it by dying at the end.

    9. Emma and Mr. Knightley (Emma, by Jane Austen)
    We could name a number of meet-cutes that occur while one party is bawling their eyes out…of course, neither party is typically an infant. Props to Jane Austen for avoiding the childhood friends cliché and taking the introductions all the way back to Emma’s very early days on earth—but it’s hard to get those cuddly, anticipatory romantic feels when you’re imagining that 16-year age gap during Emma’s childhood. But all’s well that ends well, and it is legal and not weird at all in the end.

    8. Catherine and Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë)
    No couple says quirky and adorable quite like Catherine and Heathcliff, right? Here we have yet another interesting take on the childhood meet-cute: Catherine is a spoiled brat when she meets her new adopted brother—so far, so full of opportunities for a dramatic turnaround. Of course, things get rocky when she actually spits on him and then makes him sleep in the hallway outside her room. Even that would be surmountable, except for the teensy problem that their relationship basically never evolves from there, and Catherine still acts like a spoiled brat till the day she dies.

    7. Christine and Raoul (The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux) 
    Of course, we have to follow those up with an actual childhood meet-cute, because you never forget your first love: Christine and Raoul first meet as young humans when he dashingly rushes into the sea to rescue her scarf (points for heroism and adorable smallness). Plus, they get a sort of second meet-cute when he re-falls in love with her after hearing her sing.

    6. Lady Chatterley and Mellors (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence)
    There’s nothing quite like meeting the future love of your life while pushing around your current (increasingly estranged) (paralyzed) spouse in his wheelchair. But when you toss in him ignoring you the entire time and add on an awkward second meeting where you judge his parenting technique, you’ve essentially got the secret recipe for a quirk-ton of true love. Or lust. Or whatever.

    5. Ahab and the Moby Dick (Moby Dick, by Herman Melville)
    Melville really knows how to set the stage for a wonderful, encouraging relationship: you’ve got one party whose only job in life is to kill the second party, and a second party who happens to maim the first party in an effort to survive. Sure, it sounds doomed, but there’s no denying it’s obsession, er, love at first sight. Because sometimes, “I love you,” sounds a lot like “I want to put a harpoon through your eye.”

    4. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)
    As far as setting up romance goes, Charlotte way outstrips her sister Emily. Jane and Mr. Rochester meet when he falls off his horse and she helps him up, totally unaware he’s actually her boss—a solid, steady attempt. The cuteness continues when they’re introduced for real and strike up a lovely round of witty banter, teasing, and flirting. (It’s all tarnished a bit later when it turns out he was married all along, but hey, points for a good beginning.)

    3. Anne and Gilbert (Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery)
    Oh Gilbert, how we love you and your good intentions. All he wanted was Anne’s attention; it’s hardly his fault he didn’t know Anne’s hair was a sensitive topic for her. Their introduction ends with a slate to the head and the beginning of a strong, slow-burning grudge. One pond rescue and many years of academic rivalry later, and Anne and Gilbert might finally be on the (long) road to romance.

    2. Scarlet and Rhett (Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell)
    If you thought Anne was extreme for hitting Gilbert with her slate, Scarlet one-ups her by slapping one guy and throwing a bowl at the wall near Rhett’s head. Toss in a few insults, a declaration of love for a guy who’s not Rhett, and incensed storming off, and you’ve got a near-perfect (for the reader) first meeting.

    1. Elizabeth and Darcy (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
    Of course, no meet-cute can quite compare to Lizzy and Darcy’s: he’s aloof, she’s outgoing and fun. He’s grumpy, she’s a little too poor. He insults her looks, she insults his feelings about poetry. Things are looking about as unlikely as they can get—and yet, they’re so perfect for each other. It’s just going to take approximately two dozen more awkward interactions before they get there.

  • Ginni Chen 6:30 pm on 2016/04/12 Permalink
    Tags: , fictional characters, fictional wisdom, , ,   

    Can You Guess the Fictional Character By Their Yearbook Quote? 

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    It’s that time of year, when bright-eyed seniors on the verge of leaving the academic coop put together their yearbook pages. Between the “thank you’s” and the “I love you’s” and the “OMG ROTFL’s,” every cap-and-gown-clad student feels compelled to pass on some words of wisdom that sum up their life view. Some quotes are inspiring, some are less so, but everyone strives for words that give readers a sense of who they truly are.

    As the class of 2016 ponders what quotes they’ll leave as their legacy, we thought it would be fun to imagine what fictional characters would’ve said on their yearbook pages. Test your book cred by guessing which fictional character belongs to each of these perfect yearbook quotes.

    1. This fantastically clever character’s yearbook page says this to his loving friends and family: “I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.”

    2. This character would get a kick out of quoting his girlfriend on his yearbook page, leaving underclassmen the following words of wisdom (attributed to her, of course): “It’s leviOsa, not levioSA!”

    3. This character is unpersuaded by peer pressure to change even when deemed a “nerd,” and would say: “Nothing else has any efficacy, I might as well be myself.”

    4. This character would come back from the strangest senior trip involving the most bizarre encounters, and would sum it up rather philosophically: “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

    5. This commitment-phobic party girl would have bounced out of school the day after graduation for the Big City, leaving behind this quote: “I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together.”

    6. This character would start to unravel toward the end of school and nobody would seem to notice. He’d leave behind this cryptic yearbook quote: “I have to return some videotapes.”

    7. This manifesto-writing, riot-inducing, hot-dog loving character would toss one last insult at his classmates in his yearbook quote: “I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.”

    8. This mischievous character soars above the rest of the class and seeks adventure wherever he goes. Before he takes off, he’d say to his schoolmates, “To live would be an awfully big adventure.”

    9. This character is a little less hopeful about the future than his peers. He’s little sad for the past, a little bit in love, and a little worried about what’s ahead. His parting words would be “Develop a sense of nostalgia for something, or you’ll never figure out what’s important.”

    10. This character is the rich eccentric kid in class, but truly means well and has a heart of gold. Before leaving on a strange philanthropic adventure, this character’s yearbook quote would say, “Many, many good things have I bought! Many, many bad things have I fought!”

    11. This mistake-prone yet lovable character would graduate from school at the top of the class, and would share the following optimistic outlook: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

    12. This character would ask classmates to think of the world and their responsibility to future generations. This character would want a yearbook quote that inspires awareness and change, something like: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

    13. This character isn’t a big fan of school, but isn’t happy about graduating either, because it means entering the grownup world. Their yearbook quote would speak the truth about getting older, “Grown-ups never have any fun. All they have is a lot of dull work and stupid clothes and corns and nincom tax.”


    1. Mr. Fox, from Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl
    2. Ron Weasley, from The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
    3. Oscar De Leon, from The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
    4. Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
    5. Holly Golightly, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote
    6. Patrick Bateman, from American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis
    7. Ignatius Reilly, from A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
    8. Peter Pan, from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
    9. Lenny Abramov, from Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
    10. Eliot Rosewater, from God Bless You Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
    11. Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
    12. The Once-ler, from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
    13. Pippi Longstocking, from Pippi in the South Seas, by Astrid Lindgren

    How many did you get right?

  • Nicole Hill 5:45 pm on 2016/04/07 Permalink
    Tags: babies, , , fictional characters, , , literary names, , ,   

    The Book Nerd’s Guide to Baby Names 

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    Welcome to the Book Nerd’s Guide to Life! Every other week, we convene in this safe place to discuss the unique challenges of life for people whose noses are always wedged in books. See past guides here.

    Last time we were together, we discussed how best to merge the collected works of two book nerds into one home. That was two weeks ago. For the sake of argument, let’s say your relationship has progressed dramatically since that time. We won’t ask questions. This is a safe space, after all.

    As I was saying, your relationship has progressed drastically. You are now in the market for baby names. Naturally, your inspo list derives largely from the combined bookcases your partnership has produced. But how do you decide on the right name? You and your partner both read—a lot. How do you winnow the list to something reasonable, and with options that won’t concern family and friends? (Cersei’s a compelling character, but that’s quite a bit of baggage to bestow on a newborn.)

    Just breathe. We’ll take it one step at a time.

    Divide your favorite books into three piles: new favorites, classics, and guilty pleasures. This will help you in the initial sorting process, and clarify for you the depth of your devotion to each.

    Remove the guilty pleasures pile. If you have even the slightest hesitation of bringing up your love of a book in a social situation, then you’re going to be utterly tongue-tied when it comes to explaining your child’s given name when the inevitable strangers ask—and they will ask.

    Eliminate those characters whose initials probably evade your knitting skills. If you can’t Molly Weasley the delicate symmetry of an “M” onto a sweater, then out go Matilda and Marianne. Do the letter justice or don’t do it at all.

    Strongly reconsider selecting the name of a character who meets a tragic end. I was going to say something about Old Dan and Little Ann here, but tears began welling as I typed. That’s probably going to be the same case for you, and that’s going to be a disconcerting reaction when a receptionist is just asking you to fill out forms at the dentist’s office.

    Rank the remaining characters in order by earning potential. You might as well set those kids on the right path from the start. Pip is cute and all, but it’s not the name of a CEO.

    Examine the top three names for each gender and write them over and over in a notebook. Someday a lovestruck tween is going to do this for your spawn, and the name you’ve chosen needs to look good filling up a composition book when combined with your last name. “Mrs. Zaphod Erickson” might be a dealbreaker.

    Pick your winner. Once you’ve finished the process, you should have the name of a character 1) from a book you love, 2) who makes it out alive, 3) has a good career trajectory, and 4) has a name that isn’t going to cause issues in your day to day life. Congratulations, you’ve got a bouncing baby Hermione.

    Now it’s time for a middle name. Gulp.

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