Recently I was challenged to imagine that my hero is dying and to think what I might say to him. It was part of a series of thought-provoking exercises over at the Books & Writers Forum. The exercises were designed to get writers thinking about their characters in new ways. Kill my hero? Imagine him gone?
I couldn’t do it. As my mind roamed the possible ways Nathan Rivers might die and what I, his creator, might say to him before I committed him to eternal darkness, I was seized with grief.
This reaction came as a shock to me and I’m still thinking about it. Namely, I’m concerned that I’m too close to my character. Like the warning stenciled into every car mirror: objects are closer than they appear -- my own little rear-view mirror is mocking me: characters are closer than they appear. They’ve snuck into the very fabric of my being. They dodge my footsteps and shadow me during the day. Is that healthy or somewhat mental? (Okay, we all know writers are a little… crazy.)
The reality of a writer’s life is that we devote hours to shaping our characters. We spend intense stretches of time in which we feel what they feel. We struggle with them, cry with them, rejoice with them. We live with our characters - some of us longer than others. (In my case the bones of my story are 30-odd years old.) Is it any wonder that we become attached to our characters? That we identify with them so easily?
I know I’m not alone with this and I searched the internet to see what others have written about author attachment to characters. (Just to confirm that no, I’m not as nutty as I suspected. And happily, I’m not! Either that, or I’m just in good company.)
Jeff Bennington, a writer of thrillers, has noticed the phenomenon in his own writer's life. He calls it the Law of Attachment. (My disorder has a name even!) The Law of Attachment is this: a reader will relate to the people in a story to the degree that the author has grown attached to those people.
Brilliantly simple. If I don’t feel anything for the people I create, how will the reader ever care?
I’m no longer worried that I can’t kill my hero. My challenge now is to translate my deep feelings for him to the page so that others might feel the same way. And that, my readers, is another blog topic.
How do you feel about your characters? Are they flesh and blood and bone to you? Do you think it's necessary to have the Law of Attachment in effect to have a great story and to reach readers?