Character Who Are Not Characters
Sometimes the most essential character in a story is not a character at all. The effectiveness of Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” would be lost if the protagonist awoke to find himself under a child’s swing instead of in a torture chamber. Like “To Build A Fire” by Jack London, the unique environment is the major entity in the story and the sole human character has to react brilliantly or die.
I cannot imagine Sharyn McCrums’s Nora Bonesteel outside her beloved Appalachians or Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak away from her rugged but welcoming Alaska home. They are part of the natural landscape.
Is there is a better opening passage than the start of Raymond Chandler’s, Red Wind?
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends with a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen. You can ever get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
Here’s a challenge: Open a novel with an equally enthralling weather report.
For other authors Like Adrian McKinty or Nevada Barr the changing human and natural settings combine to test their characters to the core.
In Nancy Pickard’s The Virgin of Small Plains the tornado dominated the action, like an experienced actor or actress cast in a walk-on role who has the presence to draw the audience or the camera away from the lesser performers cast as stars.
Weather, mountains, wars or natural settings, what non-human elements became characters in your favorite stories?