What a Character

I usually credit my mother for my love of reading, for instilling in me a love for books at an early age. Nothing was more exciting to me then having her read to my brother and I when we were growing up. (There’s a photo of her in the book launch pictures right under the Bitter, Sweet tab.)

Considering the fact that she is legally blind, it might seem like a strange pastime to some. There was a time when she could see the printed words by removing her glasses and holding the book up close, but with cataract surgery about ten years ago, she now reads with the use of a special magnifier. It takes her longer to read that way, but it’s hard to keep a good reader down.

No one gets into a story more than my mother. I sometimes swear she thinks the characters she reads about are real. They make her laugh and cry, and as angry as a riled hornet. Yes folks, she sometimes sputters when a specific character behaves in a way she doesn’t approve of and, I’m always the one to hear about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing. In fact, I know she’s not the only one who becomes emotionally involved to that extent. I had many people tell me they how annoyed they were with a particular character in Bitter, Sweet. And while that character annoyed me to the fullest, I didn’t hate him for being flawed. I even found myself more understanding of him than I likely would have been if he were someone I knew in real life.

It is a writer’s job to write the story without bias. When a character gets under our skin, and acts out in ways that seem inappropriate, it is not up to us to stand in judgement, nor do we jump in and make them change their actions with a few quick strokes of the pen. Or should I say keyboard? It is simply up to us to tell the story– to say, this is what happened. This is the story.

Now, while my mum would probably like to change a few plot lines in the books she reads (and I’m sure she’s not the only one) I think that you’ll agree that catching our readers and pulling them into our stories, emotionally involving them in these worlds we have created, is a very good thing indeed.

How emotionally involved to you become with the characters in the books you read or have written? Do you feel their pain? Would you like to give them a swift kick sometimes? Is feeling an emotional response more important to you than the plot or do you think both are equally important?

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8 Comments

  1. I have had to literally put books down because I was so upset or angry at what was happening…Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” was one that required several “breaks” because I was furious at the treatment of the women in the story! It was still one of the best books I’ve ever read!

    I think plot and emotional investment in the characters are equally important to me as a reader.

    Wendy

    Reply
    • Sounds as though you become quite emotionally involved, Wendy. I don’t remember having to ever put a book down but I’d have to say that any book that evoked that much emotion must be good!

      Reply
  2. I’m currently reading War and Peace and every so often or too often, I’m reaching for a tissue. Who knew it would be such a wonderful book. LOL. I want to connect with the characters and quickly forget that it’s fiction I’m reading and real. I live the story if it’s well written. I demand the same experience from my own work. Harder said than done, that’s for sure.

    Reply
  3. I paused at your question on response vs. plot, but then I remembered the two books I tried to read this year that had solid plots, but I just didn’t care about the characters, and didn’t finish the books. So there’s my answer: I need an emotional response to keep me interested in the plot.

    I can’t remember that I’ve grown angry enough to put a book down, though I do sometimes get angry, but I’ve had to take a break after being overwhelmed by other emotions. That’s when I know I’m reader as a reader, not a writer.

    Reply
  4. I think I have to answer your questions with a question of my own … why read a book if you can’t get really into it? That for me is being able to see through the characters’ eyes, to be stirred in some way emotionally. I have had to pause reading when I get annoyed or overwhelmed in the story, but those stories are begging to be finished … so I have to read on.
    And one of your characters in Bitter, Sweet irked me, so I would say that was a good thing. It says something about how good a writer you are, Laura. :)

    Reply

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