Something has really been bothering me about my novel – or more accurately, my lack of progress regarding said novel. I’m stuck, and I’ve only barely started it. I’ve tried identifying the problem for months now – laziness? No time? Lack of confidence? (“I’m an attorney, not a writer. How could I possibly write a novel? I have no idea what I’m doing!”) All of these are a part of the problem. But a few days ago, it occurred to me that my biggest problem is that I have no idea who my characters ARE. I mean, I have names, basic personality traits, even motivations. But they are not Actual Real People. They bore me. This is bad.
It really struck me today as I was thinking about Game of Thrones. I am completely in love with this show. I recently watched the infamous Red Wedding episode. As I watched Robb, Talisa, and Catelyn Stark butchered in that hall, I felt as if I were losing my own friends. I was shocked, heartbroken, angry, and scared. When Kahl Drago died in Daenerys’s arms, I cried as if watching the love of my life leave the earth. When the evil King Joffrey ordered the beheading of Ned Stark as his own daughters watched, I was horrified and heartbroken. I love these characters, these people. I feel like Arya could be my little sister. I love to hate that horrible Joffrey. I am thrilled that Jaime Lannister is turning into a caring person – ok, less horrible person. I really want to like Siercy, but she drives me nuts. And what I would give to have a drink with Tyrion Lannister and pick his brain. And yes, I admit that I want Daenerys to be my best friend (the dragons certainly don’t hurt).
Why? Why did I have these reactions about people who aren’t even REAL? Easy. They are not just characters. They feel like living, breathing people who I personally know. That is the genius of George RR Martin and the people behind the TV series. I read once that if a writer intends to only write about a “character” instead of a real person, that character becomes a caricature. And that is one of the worst Writer Sins, in my opinion. If you write a caricature, the reader will quickly lose interest. They simply will not care what happens to the character. And that is the death knell for any novel.
We talk about plot, and conflict, point of view, and pacing. All of these things are important, of course. But without fleshed out, three dimensional, living, breathing characters – people who have a past; people with unique fears, idiosyncrasies, a sense of humor, interests; things that makes them laugh or cry or get angry – the readers will likely stop reading. These people are interesting, and they make the reader KEEP READING.
This is probably not news to anyone other than myself. I always knew that well-developed characters were crucial to any novel. But it finally dawned on me that this is exactly the problem with my own work-in-progress. Fortunately, I am early enough in this writing process that I have plenty of time to figure out who my characters are – I have time to make them interesting, real people. I will love some, and hate others. And yes, I will have to find the courage to kill my darlings. So, now the work begins.
By the way, Tyrion – the drink is on me. This could be fun.