I have to admit to a guilty secret. I write for myself. Every story that has been (or hasn’t been) published, has been written with me as the reader in mind.
I know that this probably goes against the grain of advice, but I once tried to write a story for the reader, and for a genre that is particularly popular (romance if you’re wondering) and I couldn’t actually get past the first paragraph. If I was to involve romance, it would have to be a minor part of a book that was filled with blood, guts and revenge. One which I’ve actually sketched out and started to write years ago. And which I might well revisit.
But straight romance was, quite simply, utterly boring to me. I couldn’t summon the enthusiasm to even write, let alone actually care about the characters I’d invented.
And that, to me, is key. You have to care about the characters you invent, even the ones that are effectively red shirts. They do something good/bad, and then they die. Even the bad ones would have had someone that had loved and cared for them at some point in their (fictional) lives. I think that it shows if you don’t care about your characters. Mark Lawrence is one such author. In one utterly horrific scene involving a dog, he destroys his main character, it’s one of the defining moments of the series. But, for me, the main character wasn’t important. The dog was the character of that scene and I could tell from the writing and what he told me later in a conversation on Facebook, that Lawrence cared for the dog. I cried reading it. He cried writing it. This talk of crying brings me on to another piece I once had to write when I was still a martial arts journalist.
I once had to write a eulogy for a man that I’d never met. He was the best friend of a good friend of mine. My friend had written a eulogy and wanted to get it published in one of the martial arts magazines I was working for at the time. I took his article and fleshed it out, keeping all of the feeling that my friend had put into it. By the end of it, I was crying for a man that I had never met, but who I wished I had. I sent the draft over to my friend for approval, and he too wept for the man he had known.
If I hadn’t started to care, that article could have been a dry piece of writing that marked the man’s passing, but which conveyed none of the emotion behind it.
So, if you’re thinking about writing, make sure you a) like the subject you’re writing for and b) you have to care about your characters.
I am SO glad I’m not the only one who conects with his characters like this. I go so far as to occasionally feel guilty about what I put them through. Seriously. There’s a character named Lumen in my second novel who is put through hell (masterly use of the passive voice there), and the guilt I feel is at times palpable. It’s not like he’s a bad person and thus could be said to deserve it, nor that it’s essential for his world that he suffer. No, instead he suffers merely for my story, a situation that casts me in the role of a sadistic divinity. On the plus side, while I may not have much going for me in this world, there is another where I am feared as a GOD! Mwah-hah-hah-haaaa…
I like caring for characters that really don’t deserve any form of loving at all. Then yes, I’ll be more than happy to make them suffer 😛