The Writer’s Relationship With Characters

Image(Images of a few of my characters and a friend’s characters from a previous story, drawn by me)

In light of my blog entry from last week about how to create characters, I would like to discuss the relationship a writer has with her characters. It’s going to be different for everyone, but I’d like to touch on my personal experience while writing. Someone once said to me that he can’t understand how I can grow so attached to TV/movie characters, nor can he comprehend how much my own characters really mean to me. So, I’m going to let you explore my mind a little bit.

First off, I think most people who watch movies or read books end up building a connection with the characters. You have the ones you like and the ones you hate. The writer isn’t doing her job if she doesn’t make her readers care about the people she creates. So yes, when characters died during the Red Wedding in Season 3 of Game of Thrones, I cried, threw pillows, and plastered facebook with my rage. When some of my favorite characters in the Redwall books were killed, I cried and mourned for them. Heck, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock in one of his books, people were so devastated by the loss that Doyle had to bring Sherlock back.

The money probably didn’t hurt either.

What this amounts to is that people learn to care for characters as if they were friends or family. If a character I love betrays another, I get mad. If a character I adore dies, I cry and feel miserable for a while. It took me years to get over how K.A. Applegate finished her series Animorphs because of what she did to the characters, and I won’t even go into how the series itself ended. Readers care and feel, and that’s how an author becomes successful. If readers don’t feel invested in the characters, why would they continue reading the author’s books?

This leads to the questions, how does the author create the characters and make them so likeable? How does one build a relationship with fictional characters? As I said, everyone has a different experience, so I’m just going to focus on mine, and hopefully this will clear some of the questions up for people or at least help to better explain my mind.

My characters are like children to me. Some of them are the golden children that do everything I want them to do. They’re easy to write about, make me happy, and behave. Others, I would like nothing more than to lock in a closet and never have to write about because they never do what I want them to do. I try to write a scene with expectations of what the character will do, and instead of fighting a battle, my character might be off gambling on the sidelines. Some characters I have to nurture, coax them to come out of their shells and show me what they’re really like. Others I feel empathy towards, and I have to hold them and guide them through the story because they’re so lost or broken.

I’m sure this sounds strange to some people. They may think, “You’re the author. How can it be hard to make a character do what you want it to do? You’re the one writing about them, and they’re just fictional figures.”

Yes, it’s true, I’m in control of the pen and keyboard, and I’m the one who creates the character from scratch, but as I write, the character takes on her own persona. As I mentioned before, sometimes the character just writes herself. I can create her background, her appearance, and everything important about her, but what she does is up to her sometimes. I have to follow her guidance and just let my fingers run across the keys and see what she’s going to do. Sometimes the story is just as much of a surprise for the writer as it is for the readers.

On top of that, and more humorously, sometimes a character can become so stubborn that I actually get mad at her for messing with me. For example, I have a new character in my book that went through multiple name changes. I didn’t get frustrated with myself each time a new name arose (some more ridiculous than others), I got mad at her, blamed her for not being a good character and just sticking with one name.

Geeze…no wonder people think I sound loony.

There are days where I cannot write about certain characters. I will sit and argue with that character, struggle to get out his dialogue or even his actions. But if I switch to another character, suddenly the ideas flow and she talks to me and tells me what to do in the scene. No, it’s not like the devil and angel sitting on my shoulders. It’s just a feeling I get, a warmth deep inside of me that helps me connect with the book and my characters.

I grow attached to some and completely forget others amidst the story (sorry, Oswin). When bad things happen to characters, I feel sad, especially if I truly like the characters. Yes, I’m the one causing the bad situation, but that doesn’t mean I feel good about it. My favorite characters…I feel for them. I have empathy for them, and it’s important to have some sort of emotion towards the character so you can properly write about how they feel. You want to pull the readers into the book, to help them feel what you feel as you write about the character. I’m not going to lie, when a character has grown emotional or impassioned, I’ve cried or grown just as empowered. There have been times where a character has been so angry with another that I’ve actually felt my heart pound in my chest, my hands shake, and my face flush with similar rage.

On the flipside, when I have characters that I don’t like, I get angry with them. It’s so much harder to write about them because I want to try to make them likeable for my readers, even though I know all of the horrible things that they’re going to do. It makes me sick to my stomach sometimes, until I can allow myself to feel the “darkness” that surrounds that evil character.

Writers lose themselves sometimes in the emotions of their characters to help to properly covey their feelings. It’s an interesting sensation, though I will say that this is making me sound like I cry a lot when I write, which I don’t. I build a bond with my characters. I worry about what will happen with them and how they’ll react to different situations. That’s why it’s always a good idea to just write scenes between several characters to get a feel for what they’ll be like when certain events occur.

When I first create someone, I feel so much joy and excitement. It’s always so much fun to just make someone new, figure out the character’s history, his friends, his enemies, and so on and so forth. As I write, I grow more familiar with him, and hopefully, I grow attached. Forming that bond helps me remember that character and understand how he works. If the character should happen to die, and I’ve formed a strong bond with him, it’s so hard to do. It’s like I’m killing off a friend that has been there with me for such a long journey.

In a book series I wrote (I won’t say what), I spent about three books with a single character. I loved this person very much, and I always enjoyed writing about her. But I knew from the very first chapter that she wasn’t going to survive until the end of the book. I tried not to grow attached, but I couldn’t help it. I felt her grow on me, and I worked with her, watched her grow and live out her life. But as the final pages arrived, and the death happened, I broke down during the entire scene and had to put the final book away for a few days because it was so hard to say goodbye to her. When I returned to the book, I didn’t have much of a sense of closure until my other characters properly mourned for her as well.

It’s strange and unusual for some people to hear writers talk about this, but honestly, I don’t understand the point of writing if I can’t find such interest and joy in my characters. Granted, there are a couple that I hate very much and can’t stand writing about, but the rest…they’re friends to me, and that makes me never feel quite so alone. They’re always there, just kind of roaming around my head, waiting to come down onto paper and enter the story. Frankly, I don’t know what I would do without the ideas. Could I even still call myself a writer?

I think that’s enough reflection for now. As always, if you have any ideas for future blogs, leave a comment down below.