I Was A Middle Aged Writer

April 16, 2009

Make ‘Em Love/Hate Your Characters

Filed under: writing — danielrdavis @ 4:01 pm
Tags: , ,

Hello all,

I can tell I don’t have a lot of readers, but there are a few who pop over here from time to time, mostly from Magical Words looks like.  So, something hit me to blog about yesterday, something that’s been a major point of mine for quite a while.  Strangely it was spurred by the script I’ve been rewriting along with something Faith Hunter said over at Magical Words. She’s mentioned before that when she gets stuck in a novel she usually realizes that she’s made it too easy for the protagonist and she’ll add some strife or kill a character. There’s also a lot of characters dying in the movie script I’ve had to rewrite for a producer (It’s not mine, but needed revisions and I’m good at that, it seems).  However, there’s one thing that one must never overlook in any medium and that’s hooking your reader and getting them to relate to or revile your characters.

Now, this isn’t something that Faith has an issue with, but all too often I see what I call the “who cares” death.  This happens a lot in Horror especially. The writer ends up killing characters for killing’s sake, never creating a real personality for anyone to grab onto and relate to.  The best deaths, in any medium, are those where the audience has grown attached to the character.  They’ve seen a bit of this character’s personality, they’ve gotten to relate to them in some way, they’ve grown to feel for the plight of this person. This makes the impact far more real and poignant for the audience when that life is suddenly stripped away from them. They have to have more than just lines and a death scene.  Every death should be felt, from the protagonist’s friend to the farmer that was just trying to keep from being the monster’s lunch.  Death, especially violent death, strips a life from everyone who knew that person.  This should be felt, even in some small way, by your audience.

I’m not saying you need to invest hours of time developing a deep bond in regards to the farmer, but showing that he loves his family and would do anything to keep them safe is enough to have a small impact on the audience.

I’m going to give an example of this in modern film. Alien Vs Predator.  Decent action movie, but can you really say you cared one whit what happened to any of the characters?  Same with House of the Dead.  There’s no real bonding going on between the audience and the characters.  You really don’t care that these people are being killed.  I see this quite a bit in indie films as well. No one takes the time to show the audience that these characters are worth caring about.  It’s just another senseless death scene.  If you take the time to build a bit of a rapport with your audience concerning your characters your work will be far more memorable.

And this goes equally for villains as well as protagonists, supporting cast and victims.  Your villain needs to have something for the audience to latch onto as well. And this can go either way. You can either make the audience completely revile the character, making the death a great satisfaction or actually give the villain a soul.  Make the audience actually connect with the villain on some level, allowing them to understand how this person could have become this way, and make the death bitter-sweet.

If you take the time to make your audience feel for every character death in your story you’ll be rewarded with a far more gripping piece, and may even get a few teary eyes from your audience to boot.



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