Keeping our characters alive


Reminding your readers of ‘missing’ characters.

I have a character who ‘disappears’ for a long time in my current novel, but I don’t want my readers to forget him as he’s going to ‘reappear’ at the end. So how do I keep him alive?

Whilst thinking this through I remembered teaching  Antony and Cleopatra to a class many years ago and pointing out, that since Anthony dies at the end of Act four, and half the play is named after him, Shakespeare has the challenge of keeping him vivid in our minds for the entire last act. So how does he do this? Well, first of all, he has other characters talking about him. They clearly remember him, and hence so do we. His erstwhile followers describe him in glowing terms, but so does his enemy Octavius Caesar, and that’s even more impressive, coming from a man who used to despise him. Secondly, people start quoting him. When a character called Proculeius comes to Cleopatra, she says, Antony/Did tell me of you, bade me trust you…’ Using Antony’s name, and his words, enables him to speak to us from beyond the grave. Finally, Shakespeare uses dreams. In Cleopatra’s famous ‘dream speech’ she elevates the man to god-like status:

His legs bestrid the ocean: his rear'd arm
Crested the world: his voice was propertied
As all the tuned spheres,

By making Antony a larger than life character, albeit retrospectively, Shakespeare ensures he achieves huge stature in our minds. By the time Cleopatra commits suicide at the end of the play, he is still so alive for us that we really believe he is speaking to her:

Methinks I hear
Antony call; I see him rouse himself
To praise my noble act

Of course, not all of these methods are appropriate for us, but certainly making our ‘dead’ characters as vivid as possible will help keep them a strong presence for our readers.


CharactersGill ThompsonComment