*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Poldark, both the books and the television series. Read at your own risk.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using Winston Graham’s series of novels, Poldark and the subsequent television series to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
Let’s start with the titular hero: Ross Poldark.
Ross is the son of an ancient family in Cornwall, England. At the beginning of the first book and the miniseries, Ross is fighting for the British during the American revolution. In love with Elizabeth, their relationship seems like it is on the fast track toward marriage. Then Ross is injured while fighting for King and country. He comes home to find Elizabeth engaged to his cousin, Francis, his father is dead and the mine that his income is derived from is in shambles.
On one hand, Ross is very much a member of the upper class. He knows what is expected of him and knows how to act. But Ross is hot headed and stubborn. While he can be honorable and does what is right (even if it goes against the law, i.e. the beginning of book 3 and Series 2), he can also act very stupidly. In Book 4 and series 2, Francis dies in a mine accident. The previously dormant feelings Ross had for Elizabeth flicker back to life, nearly breaking up his marriage to Demelza and forcing him to do the unthinkable to Elizabeth when he learns that she is to marry George Warleggan.
To sum it up: Ross Poldark feels alive to the reader because this character is full of contradictions. Though he is a part of the upper class, he appreciates, respects and stands up for the people who do not have his advantages. He can be a bit foolish and headstrong, but he tries to do what is right.
As writers, we have to approach our characters from not just one or two traits, but a mixture of good and bad. Ross is honorable and tries to do what is right, but sometimes falls victim to impetuousness. No one is wholly good or wholly evil. Winston Graham created a hero who feels alive and real because he is human and therefore imperfect.
This is the first post of what I hope will be a weekly series. Any suggestions to improve this series of posts are greatly appreciated, feel free to leave comments in the comments box below.