Sunday, October 20, 2013


For the majority of our stories, characters are the essential vehicle we use to tell our tale.  Along the way, we get to know these quirky bits of our imagination.  As absurd as it sounds, we form relationships with them, and they kind of become our friends.  That kinds crazy to folks who don't write, but it makes perfect sense to us.

Unfortunately, this can lead to an unhealthy level of attachment.  Much like a general in combat, we get so attached to our characters that we become afraid to make them do what's necessary.  We don't want them to get hurt, and we get so invested in their happiness that we despair of seeing them suffer.  In a novel, however, their suffering, and sometimes worse, is the basis for our story moving forward.  If those we care about don't suffer, how do we create tension or a dramatic story?
(Who's in your cast of characters?)
Stephen King famously went through this when he wrote The Stand.  He found he was in the middle of a story with no way out, and he was so attached to Glen, Nick, Larry, and the gang that he couldn't find a way out until the unthinkable occurred to him - he had to kill the ones he loved.  In The Stand, this meant detonating a large bomb in the Boulder safe house that killed Nick Andros and sent several others to their proverbial graves.  Finally, he had found a way out of the gridlock.

This is something I've observed lots of writers having a problem with.  Injuring or killing your friends(in the novel you're writing) can be a daunting task.  After all, we developed these folks and want to see them succeed.  However, we have to remember that they're just plot decides designed to get a reader from A to B, nothing more.  As cold as it sounds, we're like that general sending troops to battle - some have to be sacrificed so that the greater good can be served.

Does the thought of hurting your characters make you queasy?  Do you lose sleep?  Some will undoubtedly laugh at these questions, but more still will understand them, many even nodding at them.  As writers, we have to find ways to break free from those attachments and crush those we've created.  Knocking off a favorite character or torturing him or her in some way is usually a great device to bring realism and tension to what we've written.  By being afraid to do the unthinkable we relegate ourselves to the normal, or even the boring.  After all, have you ever gotten into a book that went like this:  "John was born.  He lived a happy life, met his wife, and had a great family.  He was always happy and no one bothered him.  He easily overcame all challenges.  Everybody wanted his life."
(Yup - a boring read)
Yeah, I'd put it down to.  Our characters have to be in trouble, and sometimes they even have to die.  Figuring out the how and why is what will keep people reading.

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