Character or caricature?

Cover of "Filthy Rich"

Cover of Filthy Rich

Many thousands of words have been written on how to create believable characters that will attract the reader’s empathy. Well-honed characters make the reader turn the page and ultimately they linger in the mind long after the book has been finished.

But sometimes authors appear to break the ‘rules’. I’m reading Filthy Rich  by Wendy Holden and several of the characters within this novel are more caricatures than characters with whom that the reader can identify. There is:

  • Alexandra – the stereo-typical footballer’s girlfriend. She’s all shiny bling and would-be celebrity.
  • Beth – an American desperate to mingle with the English aristocracy
  • Morag – the local eco-warrior who insists on an earth closet at the allotments to provide free fertiliser

Initially, I felt these cartoon-like people gave the book a shallow feel and I was tempted to give up on it. However, there are some ‘real’ people in the book – the headmistress who’s falling in love with the widowed solicitor, Mary who’s struggling to save the local stately home plus 8-year-old Sam who’s being fostered. As I got drawn in to the story of the believable characters in their fictional Derbyshire village, I realised that the ‘caricature’ people served a purpose:

  • They add humour
  • They unite the other characters in their battle against them (or against the earth closet in particular!)
  • They provide plot lines as their over-the-top activities impact the village  

So maybe it’s not necessary to make every one of your characters totally authentic. If you want to lighten the mood, advance the plot or bring other characters together then it could be alright to go OTT once in a while.

Plus it could be fun to let your imagination run riot and create a really way-out caricature!


  1. #1 by Helen Yendall on August 15, 2011 - 12:26 pm

    That’s an interesting post, Sally and it’s given me food for thought. I can certainly ‘forgive’ a caricature if he/she makes me laugh! Let’s face it, not may characters in books can do that!

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on August 15, 2011 - 12:43 pm

      Helen – I agree, it’s always good to find a bit of humour in a book and an OTT character is a good way of doing this.

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