Friday, September 4, 2009

Characters: Love 'em or Leave 'em

I belong to the writing community of I have an online portfolio there and I get to read, rate and review other writers in the community. I really love the place, as we call it WDC. You can also sign up for newsletters in different areas and genres, depending on what you'd like help with.

So today was newsletter day, you get them every week either in the middle of the week or the end. One of the fantasy newsletters was about characters and loving them too much. Is it good for the story if nothing bad ever happens to the main characters? Is it good for the story if everything happens to the main characters? What is a good balance?

Personally, the main character in the "Twilight" series, Bella, was loved too much by her creator. I felt pretty disappointed by the last book, "Breaking Dawn" simply because everyone lived happily ever after and even the big bad group of Elder Vampires walked away from a fight. Yes, Bella got attacked by rival vampires, she was in the hospital more times than I care to count throughout the series, yet in the end, she got her way. She went from being a normal 18 year old girl fresh out of high school and straight on to being a newlywed, then a mother and finally a vampire. She rocketed from an 18 year old mentality to a 30 year old mentality in the space of a couple years. While there was plenty of teenage angst and drama going on, what with the numerous boys having crushes and the insecurity that Bella was indeed a beautiful girl, it fell flat. Again, this is my opinion, but I am choosing this character as an example of one being loved too much. Nothing horrible ever happened to Bella. (I can hear the fans gasping.) Bear with me. There is a huge difference between drama and tragedy.

When writing about a beloved character, which Bella was, you can't be afraid to have irreversible damage happen. It seems to me as if not only Bella was loved, but all of her background characters were loved just as much. When an author loves their character so much they're afraid to put them directly in harm's way, it leaves the story lacking. Bella always seemed to get out of a jam, even if she was injured in the process. That isn't always enough for some readers.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a morbid, wicked person. Okay, maybe just a little bit. But when writing about my characters and putting them in a situation I have to stop and ask myself, "Would they really be able to escape this situation without some sort of physical or emotional scarring?" If you know human nature, the answer would be no. It is important to move on with a story, yes. But to have a character just let things go like water off a duck's back just doesn't seem to fly with me. It seemed as if Bella let a lot go and it didn't even sit in her subconscious.

On the other hand, there are characters that have much too much happen to them right off the bat and it affects them the rest of their lives. The example given in the newsletter was Star Wars. Luke Skywalker's family is wiped out and he's off like a shot to follow his destiny. I think just enough happened to Luke to shape him into the man he was meant to be. I don't think I have yet come across a storyline or book where the character just seems to have tragedy after tragedy thrown at them. Give me suggestions and I'll check them out.

I have no qualms about killing off a main character if that is where the path is leading them. I even have plans to kill off a main character eventually. I write like I play "Magic the Gathering"; be willing to sacrifice your own for the sake of destroying the many. (Yes, I'm a serious geek, tell me something I don't know.) If I had a character whose sole purpose of the story was to die in the end, I'd be right there holding the blade to kill them with. However, I would mourn that character in the end. I'd cry, I'd probably even hold a flippin' funeral for it. But in the end, if it stirred up the same grief in my reader, then I have done my job. If my readers mourn that character, if they saw that the only way for things to be right in my world was for that character to die, I've given them a gift. I've given them something they'll enjoy.

Harry Potter books do that to me. J. K. Rowling cannot be accused of loving her characters too much. There's no way. If you have read all of the books, you know what I mean. If you haven't read them all yet, well be prepared to cry. I won't be a spoiler, though. But the woman knows how to twist our hearts. She knows that the friends of Harry will do absolutely anything to protect him to reach their goal of destroying Voldemort. They would even die for him. What more do you need to tell you how important it is that Harry survive? You certainly don't see any of his friends backing off suddenly and saying, "You know...forget it. I've done enough and I want to live to see the end result. Harry, love ya man, but I'm outta here." Everyone knows that in war, which is exactly what was happening in Rowling's books, lives will be lost. Innocent and otherwise.

So all in all, don't be afraid to have something bad happen to your characters. It shapes them into the people they're meant to be. If it is important to the storyline, then let it happen. Don't fret and be over protective about it, let it happen. You'll be happy with the end result if you are willing to love them enough to let them go.

I'd also like to apologize for writing such long blogs. I can't help it, I have a lot to say. However, if you manage to read every single one to the end, then let me just say THANK YOU!

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