Tuesday, October 30, 2012


My daughter and I actually had this argument this weekend when I was once AGAIN crying while watching Avatar for the twentieth time. The blue-alien one, not the little elemental-wizard-kid one. (Hey, I also cry at the end of Cool Runnings) Tami's a very literal, in-this-world twelve-year-old. She likes to read, but she doesn't understand how a writer--and hopefully through the writer, a reader--can become so emotionally invested in a world that is, in her opinion, FAKE.


I care about my characters. I craft every word, emotion and reaction with excruciating exacting detail. I second-guess myself countless times. I HATE throwing my folks in harm's way, even when I know it's necessary for both growth and drama. I know someone's going to curse me for killing off so-and-so, no matter how noble the loss. In order for a character to be more than black-on-white on a page, they have to laugh, weep, lose, win--and love. If they don't quake with fear, if their hearts don't stutter and shatter--neither will the readers.

Writers were readers first. We've worked hard to emulate the masters we admire, and we know what is is to set a book aside that's been "meh." We shudder to think of someone doing that to our baby. And our characters ARE our babies, our creations, from nothing but dreams and hopes and imagination. We breathe life into them, we cheer them on and comfort them when everything's going wrong... "Trust me," we tell them. "I've got this handled. You WILL see each other again..."

Characters ARE real. They have lives and back stories, hopes and fears and dreams. They worry, they cry, they get sick and injured. They can die. But they also personify all that is best and pure in ourselves. They do the things we can only dream of. They win the battles we can't. They're bigger than us, greater than us. And we love them for it.


Mary Hughes said...

Love this. It's so true, the emotional investment both as a reader and a writer. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

I feel that way too. My kids, who are about your daughter's age, always say "Are you crying?" when the sad parts of a movie come. They ask, "Why are you laughing out loud?" while I'm reading a book. It's because the writer, producer or actor got it just right.

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, to me characters are more real than the people around me. I like most of the characters better too. :)

Absolutely LOVED Avatar. Didn't think I would - thought it would be cartoony. It had amazing depth. At the end, when everyone thought he was dead and she said "Jake" (only it sounded more French) and he opened his eyes...damn, I was bawling.

Fiona McGier said...

I think that reading allows the reader to be inside of the author's head for a while, to think the thoughts that another person had first. To me that's exciting! Even when the author is long-gone, like Shakespeare, or writes in another language that got translated, you are still in their thoughts. So the characters who are the most real to the author are also the most real to the reader. When readers tell me that a particular scene made them cry, and I cried while I wrote it, I'm happy!

I used to ask my Mom when I was younger, why my friends cried at movies and I didn't. She assured me that when I had lived long enough to experience the panoply of possible emotions, that I'd start doing it also. And she was right. I think your daughter isn't old enough yet. She will be, some day. And you can remind her of that as you pass her a tissue.

jean hart stewart said...

You got that right, girl.. Of course our characters are real. Mine talk to me a lot, and at the end of the book I hate to say good-bye.

Renee Wildes said...

Thanks so much, you guys!

Tami cracks me up. I wonder if I was that SURE of everything when I was her age? She's very black & white!