Are You Writing Characters Your Reader Will LOVE?

In my pursuit of the well rounded, three dimensional character, I began reading – REALLY reading, Robert McKee’s book, Story – a book I HIGHLY recommend.

OK lovebugs, this is what I’ve learned so far:

FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR CHARACTERS

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They are your babies, your creations, your soul whisperings.

McKee says this: (pay attention)

“The PROTAGONIST must be EMPATHETIC…”

Repeat after me: empathetic, empathetic, empathetic.

Empathetic : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

Empathy = “like me”

As a writer you need to understand: empathetic characters connect with the reader.

reader

Reader says:  Hey! This character and I have some things in common. This PROTAGONIST and I share a humanity. I would like to have this character as a best friend, lover, sister, brother, partner in a bank heist, random stranger I am stuck in an elevator with, neighbor, mother, etc.

 Hell!  I might even want to BE this character. 

Subconscious logic ensues:

A] The PROTAGONIST is like me.

B] I want the PROTAGONIST to have whatever  it is that s/he wants BECAUSE I EMPATHIZE with her/him and …….

C] **[IMPORTANT] BECAUSE I WANT THE SAME THING FOR MYSELF!!

Now, here’s another dimension to this whole EMPATHY thing.

As a writer, you HAVE to make sure that  ALL (I repeat: ALL) of your characters are EMPATHETIC ….. even the bad’uns. They deserve love just like everyone else. They don’t think they’re bad’uns, just misunderstood. But then, aren’t we all? 

Watch this interview with John Stewart and David O. Russell, director of American Hustle.  Empathy thing = spot on.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-february-19-2014/exclusive—david-o–russell-extended-interview-pt–1

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-february-19-2014/exclusive—david-o–russell-extended-interview-pt–2

McKee’s advice: “If you can’t love them, don’t write them.”

Do you, as a writer, struggle with this?? What helps you LOVE your little darlings?

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Civil War

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Civil War soldier – suspected to be female.

Characters come from everywhere: street corners, pictures in magazines, a conversation you overhear – writers are masters at eavesdropping – a song, a phrase, a piece of clothing, anything really can spark someone into life. Sometimes they just appear from the ether ready to tell their story, not a shy bone in their imaginative bodies. But then there are THOSE characters who lurk in the shadows, taunting you with their silence.

I’ve had this ongoing relationship with a character I’ve called Addie for years now. She won’t leave me be but isn’t forthcoming with her story. All I know about her is that she is obstinate and obnoxious and abrasive. Did I mention closed-mouthed?  Not at all like the heroine I had envisioned for my historical romance. She didn’t even seem to bathe that often. I mean . . . What kind of romance heroine doesn’t bathe? And she’s prone to violence. A shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of gal.

Trying to pin down her story has been a monumentally difficult task and she still gives me fits. .

And on top of that. The characters in the book – including the hero – didn’t really like her.

I didn’t even like her.  And each time I wanted to get rid of her and find a more manageable leading lady, I stopped short.  To be honest, I did plan her demise – hemlock, falling from a strategically placed cliff, accidental shooting – but I digress.  I can’t get her out of my head. There was something intriguing about this character and I knew she had a story to tell.  But unfortunately for me, she sat there: brooding, shut-mouthed and stubborn, antagonistic toward me and any attempt I made at breaching the void.  And so we sat  – glowering at each other from opposite corners of my brain.

After whining to a fellow writer, my friend suggested that I see a hypnotist.  And not just your normal, run-of-the-mill hypnotist, a regression therapist – someone who will take you down memory lane to revisit all your former selves. She’d done a session or two and it had opened her up to some plotting issues she was having. I mean, what could it hurt?

Many spiritual practices believe that reincarnation is real and I will admit that I have entertained the possibility. But even feeling the way I did, I was prepared for a mediocre experience at best. I thought that if I could walk away with a magic mantra to eradicate writer’s block AND find a way to send Addie back into the ether, I would have gotten my money’s worth.

I was wrong.

The hypnotist put me under and I can honestly say it was one of the oddest sensations I’ve ever had. Walking down the tunnel to another place in time, before the time of my birth and stepping out into the American Civil War. The words came easily, the smell of rotting fall leaves was strong, the crunch, the leaves shadowing on the ground – it was all real. I was looking out, like a first person player video game, into a new, yet familiar, world.

I found myself telling the hypnotist my story and the words came easily. The girl (me) was a spy/agent/loose cannon for the Confederacy and had been shot in the side. I showed the therapist where. I remember thinking – “Here. Like this.” and when I held out my hand I saw blood on it. This girl was angry. Beyond angry. She had been abandoned by the people who said they would stand by her. She was bleeding and cold and alone and in trouble.

A nearby farmer and his daughter found her/me hidden in the woods. Me/she was dressed as a boy and the reasoning made sense to me as I described what I was wearing – part protection in a country gone mad and part in rebellion at the constraints that a woman would have faced. She/me liked the freedom. They took her in and saved her life.

The hypnotist asked what I noticed about the situation and she/me said…………………the daughter’s shoes.

Not the war-torn countryside.

Not the gaping hole in her side.

Not the hunger and fear.

The shoes. Really?

The daughter wore some sort of slipper and were not at all like the men’s too-big riding boots that ‘I’ wore. The strength of emotion that ‘I’ had about those shoes and thinking that they were how ‘I’ judged my life was strong. No money for new shoes, no time for a normal life, no room for being female or showing any feminine side, and even if there were, how would a pair of those slippers fit into someone who lived like ‘I’ did. Slippers weakened you, Slippers made men see you as fragile and less and that was not who ‘I’ was. Slippers were foolishness. And this girl that I had been was no fool. She shot people, she torched barns and homes of Union sympathizers, she was angry and serious and focused and strong.

But oh . . . those slippers were sooooooooooo pretty.

I remember hearing the longing in my voice when I listened to the taped session later and the memory of those shoes still made me smile. And even though her boots were practical, she hated them in a fist-in-the-air-Scarlett O’Hara-as-God-is-my-witness-I-will-never-wear-ugly- shoes-again- kind of way.

It was then that I felt that this girl – this Addie if you will – was me. Maybe she needed to find her voice, to be heard. Maybe she was a part of ME that needed to be heard. Maybe she was a hint, a memory of what I needed to do in this life. (Shoe shopping anyone?)

And my heart has softened towards her. She had reasons for acting the way she did. Don’t we all? (Character development lesson in there somewhere.) She is me and not me at the same time and I find myself wanting parts of Addie back – or at least parts of her sans the barn burnings and midnight raids.

There was not an ounce of fear in her body.

I want that. I want to live life fearlessly. I want to have the strength, the fierceness, the confidence that she had. I want to be passionate about my choices and have the conviction to leap without a net in the face of ‘common sense’ like she did. I want to see if I can meld the two of us back into one person. Sounds a little schizophrenic, but then I’m a writer. And writers hear voices all the time. What’s one more step down the rabbit hole in the name of art?

And maybe I can do that by telling her story. With a few modifications here and there. At least, I think, it might be easier to approach her. She might actually lower her gun and now I know how to tempt her out of the shadows.

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French Bronzed Kid Chameleon Shoes , c. 1858-1866

I think I have the perfect pair of shoes.

Tell me: What characters have given you headaches and what have you done to fix the situation? Accept them as they come or kill them off?? I’d love for you to share in the comments below. Thanks, sweetpeas.