Characters Are Our Friends

Last November I finally took the advice of a friend and began reading the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. While mystery is not my favorite genre, I do choose mystery series that align with my interests such as tea, writing, and knitting. Detective agencies? Not usually in my sphere of interest.

Much to my surprise and delight, I have since sailed through the entire series, thirteen books in all. What enchants me is not so much the mystery, but the main character, Mma Precious Ramotswe. She is strong, loving, intelligent, down-to-earth, and greatly concerned about the importance of maintaining traditional values and morality.

Everything she does, all the cases she solves flow out of who she is. Because of this I feel as though I know Mma Ramotswe personally. I want her opinion on my problems. I want to join her in a cup of tea on her veranda or at the President’s Hotel. I want to sit in on a case discussion between her and her assistant, Mma Makutsi. I want to climb into her tiny white van and traverse roads of Botswana, drinking in the sights of the Kalahari Desert, observing the wildlife that roams freely, and go along when she visits her home village of Mochudi.

I have always believed that the best fiction is character driven rather than plot driven. If I don’t care about the character, then I don’t really care about what is happening. Alexander McCall Smith is a master at this. To be able to create living, breathing characters with whom readers identify, who feel “real” in the truest sense of the word is a rare gift. Now that I’ve finished the series as a reader, I want to go back and study these books as a writer.

I cannot imagine anything better than aspiring to the same kind of character excellence demonstrated by Smith—unless it is moving to Botswana to become Mma Ramotswe’s neighbor.

I’ll send you a postcard when I arrive.

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