As advised by Darin Strauss at a writer’s conference, “Characters must be memorable, surprising and move within their essence. Most of all, they need to have their uniqueness made clear.”“When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.” (From J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye)
It’s one thing to be self-reflective – what a fine and therapeutic thing that is! – but entirely another to brood and whine so exhaustively that no one is willing to suffer your lamentations nor even bear your presence. That said, it is a great vehicle for a story. Truly, many of our most oft-quoted heroes are little more than bitter complainers who just need to be heard. (Note that they are all men.)
5. Ivanov (Anton Chekov, Ivanov) An overly dramatic fellow who really is a jerk to everyone around him, but he doesn’t know why and he really does seem to care, so much so that he takes it out on himself in the end. If an intelligent, educated, and healthy man begins to complain of his lot and go down-hill, there is nothing for him to do but to go on down until he reaches the bottom–there is no hope for him.
4. Josef K (Franz Kafka, The Trial) There is no doubt that Josef K has reason to complain – horribly treated by everyone around him, resulting in his inevitable abandonment and death – but what a depressing collection of thoughts! Yes, that’s the conspiracy: to persuade us all that the whole world is crazy, formless, meaningless, absurd. That’s the dirty game. So I’ve lost my case. What of it? You, you’re losing too. It’s all lost, lost. So what? Does that sentence the entire universe to lunacy?
3. Alvy SInger (Woody Allen, Annie Hall) A very funny neurotic to be sure, but it’s not hard to understand why Annie finally moved across the country to get away from him. I’m obsessed with uh, with death, I think. Big – big subject with me, yeah. I have a very pessimistic view of life. You should know this about me if we’re gonna go out. You know, I – I feel that life is – is divided up into the horrible and the miserable.
2. Holden Caulfield (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye) A spoiled, selfish know-it-all who somehow holds the key to decent society. Kill all of the phonies. Indeed. It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.
1. Hamlet (Willy Shakespeare, Hamlet) A most moody fellow, profound in thought and discourse, not so great on doing anything – except for royally fucking everything up. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?