Creating complex characters: Dolores in She’s Come Undone
This week it’s Dolores Price’s turn in the complex characters spotlight. Dolores is the star of Wally Lamb’s debut novel, She’s Come Undone. She’s a character that I use often in the workshops and courses that I deliver as she is amazing. Written by a 40-something man but one of the strongest and most memorable female narrators I have ever come across.
The story follows her from childhood to middle-age and although, as the novel title suggests, she goes through some really hard times I never found the book hard-going. It was compelling, heartbreaking, funny, poignant and ultimately uplifting (without having a shmaltzy ending) even though it covers themes such as sexual abuse, adultery, abandonment, mental health breakdowns and obsession.
We start with a young Dolores having a brutal introduction to the ways of the world when her beloved father leaves the family home as he’s having an affair, and never really bothers with Dolores again. Setting in motion a life for her that’s filled with mistrust, low-self-esteem, and a burning desire to be in control of people and situations, which ultimately leads to more heartache but with moments of joy and love along the way.
So why is Dolores so memorable? She’s one of the most complex and contradictory characters I’ve come across and also one of the most consistent (the 3Cs of character).
She’s surly, angry, manipulative and a liar. She’s funny, self-deprecating, vulnerable and desperate for someone to love her. She consistently behaves in ways that are really out of order but you find yourself rooting for her. She also consistently treats herself badly, physically and mentally, and you want to shake her when she looks like she’s finally having some moments of self-realisation only to slip back into the behaviours she’s always relied on, even though they are clearly harming her.
What makes her so memorable is that we’ve all been there. We’ve all done thing we know are bad for us, we’ve all shied away from dealing with the things that are making us sad. Dolores goes too far in her attempt to control things and I don’t think there’s many of us that will have done lots of what she gets up to. I’m not going to tell you what she does – go read the book if you haven’t already. It’s a brilliant book and a brilliant learning tool for us as writers.
Create a character that shares the traits I’ve listed above for Dolores. Play around and find a voice for them by writing for 20 minutes from the sentence starter: I wish I could…
Then write a scene where they are doing something most people would think is a terrible thing to do but that will keep the reader on their side anyway.
If you’re feeling brave, post your scene in the comments below as we’d love to read it!