Every story needs them.
A book can have the most plot-driven story line in existence, but if the readers can’t relate to the characters, they’re going to put the book down unfinished.
But when we, as readers, develop an affinity for a character, it takes us through the book. It keeps us glued to the words, flipping through the pages ravenously, not noticing as one chapter seamlessly moves into the next. We want to know what happens to “our” characters. Suddenly they’re friends and we’re concerned about them.
If you’ve read The Hunger Games trilogy, you couldn’t help but absolutely loving Peeta, his sacrifice and dedication. I was like, “How could you do that?” to the author when she brought in an unexpected and horrifying twist to Peeta’s character in the third book. (No spoilers, don’t worry.)
And I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted to know, would Katniss choose the fiery and proud, yet infinitely caring Gale? Or the tender and ever-so-sacrificial Peeta? And of course, Katniss herself was a reason to keep reading the book, (although more than once in the third book I wanted to slap her upside the head).
But that is a good character. A living character, one that breathes and moves you through the book.
So now I’m jumping from reader to writer … because I like to read, and I love to write.
I have issues with my characters. Seriously, they act like my children sometimes. And no, I don’t mean, “Mommy, can I have a drink of water?” at ten pm. My characters at times just don’t listen. It’s like they take on a mind of their own, with a (sometimes rather strong) will of their own.
I will have worked out an awesome scene in my mind. Seriously, if you could see into my brain at such a “eureka” moment, you would say just that: “Awesome!”
So I sit down at the next moment I have to type it up – which is sometimes not until a week or two later, but I haven’t forgotten that scene, because it’s … awesome. I begin to flesh it out with nouns and verbs and the occasional adjective and prepositional phrase thrown in there. But before long, my characters begin to alter the dialogue.
A character shouts when she was supposed to have started crying.
A character storms out of the room when he was supposed to have gotten into a conversation with yet another character.
Suddenly, I’m at the end of the chapter and it has not led into what I had in mind for the next chapter. My characters took it somewhere completely different! Okay, yes, I still have the overall end of the book in my mind. That is always there. It would be foolish to start writing something without a clear idea of how it would end.
But in the middle, these infuriating characters of mine sometimes totally do their own thing. Okay, I’ll admit, sometimes the unexpected twists they introduce are cool. Maybe even awesome … maybe.
But can’t they just listen?
Can’t they just take the path that I’ve laid out so nicely for them?
Then I stop and think about what I’m saying.
A straight path. An Author who has the perfect ending in mind. And characters that seem totally bent on doing their own thing.
And then I think how thankful I am that God doesn’t press “control ‘alt’ + delete” on His manuscript.
I think it will all work out alright. The story on the screen in front of me, yes. And even more, the story that is living and breathing all around me. I think, when I get to the end, I’ll stop and say, “That was awesome.”
And then I’ll realize it was really only the beginning.