So what exactly is a “larger than life” character? You hear that term bandied about all the time, especially as one of the attributes agents and editors are looking for in a good story.
If you were to take the term literally, you’d be wrong. It fact, larger than life is often misused and assigned to god-like characters and Rambo-esque heroes. LTL characters are less likely to be big in size and personality, or to talk big and lead with their fists instead of their hearts.
Don’t get me wrong; the Rambos and Supermen and Thors are certainly memorable and deserve to have stars by their names. They’re big enough to be household names and have the neighborhood kids dress up in costumes that look like them on Halloween. But are they truly LTL characters?
My point is an LTL goes beyond the physical. You make your characters bigger than life so they’ll be worthy of the role they’ve been given, and deserving of the boon they'll win at the end of a book. The LTL character is put in extraordinary situations and forced to make extraordinary decisions, to make sacrifices and put the needs of others above their own. There are LTL characters in real life as well as novels and movies. Lets look at some.
Mother Theresa – She’s famous for saying “A sacrifice to be real it must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves.” She was big on sacrifice, but there were three things she said you should never sacrifice: your family, your heart, your dignity. She’s memorable and heroic for what she stands for, and this makes her bigger than life.
Winston Churchill – Small in stature, yet big in wisdom and courage, Churchill was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. As a leader, he perpetually demonstrated enthusiasm, determination, and optimism and was the lion that roared when the British Empire needed him most. Unforgettable quotes from his speeches are repeated to this day.
There’s a lot we can learn from the flesh and blood LTLs to help make our fictional characters more authentic. Flaws, foibles and insecurities as well as morality, compassion, empathy and countless other characteristics shape a three dimensional human being (or non human, depending on your genre).
LTL characters are deserving of a prominent place in our stories because they’ve risen above adversity and made the hard choices that led them to victory. Strength is superficial without the weakness a character is forced to overcome in order to win.
Who are some fictional LTL characters? I’m sure there are many who star in your favorite books and that’s why those books are your favorites. I have some, too.
Katniss Everdeen – Yes, I’m a big Hunger Games fan. Katniss is made of courage and compassion, and is a great example of a LTL faced with the horrors of a cruel government run by a totalitarian dictatorship that uses children to fight its battles. These atrocities affect Katniss’ family and her own district, and against all odds, she stands up to her nemeses and refuses to back down. She deserves to win.
Vivian Daly and Molly Ayer – These two heroines get equal billing in the critically acclaimed novel, Orphan Train. The best book I’ve read in years. What makes these two ladies LTL characters? Vivian is an elderly survivor of the torture she lived through as an orphan, shipped from home to home, one hard life to the next, starting in 1929. Molly is a teenager, a foster kid, who’s had to survive similar tribulations. Molly records Vivian’s story, which allows her to understand more about herself than she ever knew just by listening to the elderly woman’s memories. A truly moving tale of determination and guts. I’ll never forget these two. They were real, and yet they were more than real. They were larger than life.
Can you share any LTL characters you’ve read in your favorite novels? What makes them larger than life?
Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.
Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.