(Cue Aretha, right? It’s all about that R-E-S-P-E-C-T!)
It is easy enough to SAY that as fiction writers, we need to respect and acknowledge the attachments readers will form to our characters. It’s easy enough to SAY that we should acknowledge the reality that readers will like or admire this character but dislike that one.
Obviously, we do this by respecting those characters in proportion in the text.
But what does this mean in practice?
WHAT IT DOESN’T MEAN
- that your characters can’t suffer, or even die
- that they can’t make huge mistakes
- that characters can’t change their minds or mature. They SHOULD.
- that you need to make it painfully obvious and distracting that you are trying to honor a character or what they have achieved. You shouldn’t. Subtlety is key. The flow and cohesion of your story take precedence.
WHAT IT DOES MEAN
- that your characters shouldn’t suffer NEEDLESSLY. Unless, I suppose, you are a nihilist and explicitly presenting nihlistic themes.
- that you shouldn’t pretend despicable characters aren’t despicable. I personally feel this is insulting to the reader/viewer. (I’ve come to recognize this is my big beef with F*R*I*E*N*D*S. I used to enjoy it. I can’t watch it now, for this reason. These are AWFUL people on that show, and the showrunners seem to have no issue with their rampant egotism.)
- That you shouldn’t expect readers / viewers to LIKE characters whom you have given no redeeming characteristics and no sense of self-awareness (see Galadriel in Rings of Power, and all the people ROOTING FOR SAURON over her.)
- that characters you expect your readers to like will probably learn from and admit their mistakes, at least eventually (See: Mr. Darcy.)
- that you should honor and recognize the loss of a good character. (see: Boromir’s death, and more subtly but just as masterful, Theoden King’s slaying of “the black serpent” on the Pelennor Fields. That victory is a beautiful way to honor Theoden and to make his defeat honorable.)
- Giving your readers appropriate closure. Generally, this will mean giving your characters closure. I can imagine situations where it may not. Your priority as the author is giving the READER closure.
So, what do you think? Do you have a memorable example of an author honoring one of their characters appropriately, that really touched you? Or the opposite?
And don’t forget The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope releases June 15! Visit my Facebook page or read an excerpt! Spread the word!
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