Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is what I consider a very fine example of character-driven storytelling.

There isn’t a flat, unrealized character in the book.  Which is a real feat because there is an enormous cast.  Not only do you have the main and auxiliary characters that I mentioned in my last post, but a whole community of ghosts, each with his or her own epitaph.  There are also a few supernatural non-ghosts.  But, here’s the thing: each one has a personality trait that you can put your finger on.  Liza Hempstock is generally offended; Miss Lepescu is a kind-hearted task mistress; Mr. Pennyworth is the adult no kid takes seriously.  And so forth.  And so on. Because of the complete imaging of each and every character–and this is the most important thing for me as a writer–every player in this book has a unique and distinctive voice.  Even before you get to a dialog tag, even when we’re talking about a really minor character, you have a pretty good idea of who’s talking.  This isn’t an easy thing to do.

Here’s another interesting tidbit.  You know about the character arc (Here are a few takes on the character arc)?  Most writers agree that at least a couple of your main characters should show growth and change (And I say most, because I ran across this).

This is why I love the set-up of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.  Mr. Gaiman has created a whole bunch of characters that have undergone their character arc before the story even starts.  So it’s completely natural that they seem very static.  One example is Silas, Bod’s caregiver, who hints that he might have been pretty awful a very long time ago.  But, he’s nothing but awesome, protective coolness over the course of the story.  Also, Bod’s adopted parents are loving, caring, formal little sweeties at the beginning of the book and much the same at the end. As a reader, I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything about these characters at all.  I’m not waiting for another book to tell me why Mr. And Mistress Owens are the way they are.

And here’s why I think it’s a great set-up:  it highlights the delicate changes around the few living characters in the book. Really, there are only four that get much play time: Bod, his best friend Scarlett, and a bullying duo by the name of Mo and Nick.  And not one of these characters are the same at the end of their story-line as when we met them.

And finally, the setting.  In this book, the setting is really another character.  It’s an ancient graveyard, which in and of itself would have been enough to be really fascinating.  But Mr. Gaiman also fills this limited space with traps and dangers, lore and curses, and magic, ghostly and otherwise.  I’m going to go into this in my next post, but the world building around the afterlife are really a huge part of the driving force of this book.  Also, as a writer, it reminds me that you don’t have to create a lush universe like Oz or Narnia or Hogwarts to have a rich, full world.  The space can be small if the imagination is big.

Next time, I’m going to tackle how the plotting of this story works.  An interesting task, that, since Mr. Gaiman’s books seems to have many elements that don’t further the plot but yet are interesting enough to keep you reading.  And somehow he makes it work!  Until next time.

Kate

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