Monday, 9 February 2015

The Connection

Monday, 9 February 2015
I was doing some planning for The Last Shadow Trilogy today and thinking about how to kill my characters off and what happens to the characters who are left behind. I felt a real sadness at this, which I'm sure many other writers have felt. Why is this? Because we have a connection with our characters. They are like our babies because we have created them.

The trouble comes when we have to get our reader to connect with our characters. Getting the reader to connect with the characters means that they care about them and what happens to them. For a book to be great I have to actually like and care about the characters.

For example, If I Stay by Gayle Forman is one of my favourite books. Why? Because I felt a real connection to the characters. I cried through nearly the whole thing. It tugged at my heartstrings so much because I felt I really got to know the characters through the course of the book. On the other hand in Matched by Ally Condie I really wouldn't care if any of the characters had died, not at all. A good example of a character death (yes, I'm aware that sentence is really weird) is Rue in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Even though you know that only one character can survive, I found myself hoping that some miracle would occur that meant they didn't all have to die. When Rue died I couldn't stop crying, I couldn't even read the page because my sight was all blurry with tears. That one really hit me hard.

So what is it that makes a character matter? Well, first of all they have to be likable, and it is also good if they are relatable in some way. You need to build a picture of their personality so the reader feels like they've got to know them.

If I'm killing off a character (and this is going to sound a bit morbid but writers have to think this way) I think really hard about how I'm going to do it. Their death needs to not just be for the sake of it, or just to further another character's development. It needs to be realistic that it would happen, and it needs to fit with their personality. If a character is really selfless they aren't going to run away from the issue for self-preservation, they are going to risk their lives for others. An example of this is in the Divergent trilogy but I won't name the character because I don't want to give away spoilers because it was a big shock (although the whole world seems to know since it was really controversial). The character in question dies by taking the place of somebody they care about in a dangerous situation. I read an interview with Veronica Roth in which she said it wouldn't have made sense for anything else to happen, because that was what the character would have done. And after reading this I realised that yeah, it was completely the sort of thing they would do and it would have been out of character for her to have done anything else.

Making sure deaths have impact on the emotions of the reader is something I worry about lots. I dread that when they read a character die they won't really think much of it. I feel a real need to make other people feel for the characters. So, how do you make a death emotional and impactful? I'm not really sure about the answer to this. It might be sad because of their relation to another character, and you can't bear the thought of them being torn apart. It might be the situation they die in e.g. self sacrifice to save others. I'm still working on this one.


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