Saturday, January 3, 2009

"Your kid is ugly and smells weird" a.k.a. Your Character Sux

Characters are a weird part of the writing experience. They're like your children in some ways. You give birth to them, nurture them, help them have a voice, try to guide them through the pitfalls of life, flinch when they screw up, and cheer when they succeed.

You often end up with a big ol soft spot for them.

But, unlike your kids, you can freakin' kill them!

*innocent smile*

(I'm not THAT bad about killing characters. the editor did send me messages about the extremely high death count that occurs in a very short time in ATWD 2. But those characters HAD to zombies were hungry. :)

But anyway, I have characters I love. Adore. Cherish.

And characters I want to throttle because they are so damn annoying.

I even fear a few of my characters. I imagine them in my real life and get a nasty chill down my spine.

Frankly, if any of my characters could suddenly spring to life and go out to lunch with me, I'm not sure I would WANT that to happen. I like them tucked away in my mind's eye, in their proper world, on mute, when I'm not writing about them. The thought of them demanding face time with me over a cup of coffee doesn't appeal to me.

But I do love them all. Even the ones that piss me off and I can't wait to off. I enjoy creating them. I enjoy developing their personalities. It is one of the joys of writing.

Once the story is done, I either post it online or release it as a paperback. In that moment, I have to take a deep breath and believe I did my best by the characters and their story. This is not always an easy moment. Frankly, its terrifying.


Because, in a very short time, the readers start telling you exactly what they think of your carefully crafted "children" and its not always pleasant.

Two characters that have people split are Jenni from the As The World Dies Trilogy and Samantha from Pretty When She Dies. Both were hard as hell to write at times and complicated as all get out in their thought processes. Both tended to do things I did not agree with.

"What the hell are you doing?" I would mutter as I wrote down their actions.

This usually incited my husband to start teasing me about the voices in my head.

They were both hard characters to write and I grew to love both of them, but they didn't always make it easy. Jenni has deep psychological issues because of the rising of the zombies and the loss of her family. Samantha just barrels along through life with her own unique perspective. Because Jenni is not all there, sometimes it was hard for me to understand her motivations at first. She starts out in shock and viewing everything around her with a haze of surreality about her thoughts. When she finally snaps out of it, she becomes a vengeful little hellion determined to kill zombies and protect her "new" family. But under the zombie killer, there are still vestiges of the woman she once was and her sanity sometimes slips. Samantha, meanwhile, just does what she thinks is right. The reader may view her actions as "villainous" and her viewpoint annoying at times, but she is always doing what she feels is absolutely the right thing to do. She believes she's the good guy and I had to love her devotion and determination.

Yet, some readers loathe both of these characters while others adore them. It's a weird feeling to hear one person declare their undying love for Jenni (or Sam) then listen to the next fan trash them. I'm not always sure how to respond to these comments. I always like to hear that a characters is beloved, but not sure how to answer when a character is not. Usually, I just say something along the lines of "Oh, everyone has their favorites" and leave it at that.

Don't get me wrong. I know some people will love a certain characters and others won't. I have read quite a few books where I loathed a character other people simply adored (Edward in Twilight comes to mind) and I just couldn't get what the other readers saw in that character.

But as a writer, I'm not sure how to respond. My first impulse is to defend the character and his/her motives, but that would be a dismissal of the reader's opinion. And that's just not right. My second response is to somehow explain the character, but again, this is just a bit condescending on my part, I think. So I guess my default response will have to do for now.

Of course, what is always fun is when I kill a reader's favorite character off...

By the end of the trilogy, I'm gonna get a earful!

Maybe I should start memorizing my appropriate responses now!


  1. I've been looking for a vampire book that resonates with what I consider to be darker. I have read 2 of Twilights series and although good it still is really a teen book and yuk Edward :(. Just me though, I'm more into Underworld, Joss Wedons Angel, 30 days of Night.
    I'm looking forward to more, thanks.


  2. Skye,

    I wrote Pretty When She Dies because I was looking for something darker in the vampire genre and could not find it. My big influences in vampire fiction are Bram Stoker and Sheridan Lafanu while my favorite vampire movies are similar to yours. And, of course, Joss has my undying love.

    You can check out the first few chapters of Pretty When She Dies over on Scribd and see if its to your liking.

    Thanks for your words of encouragement!


  3. Rhiannon, oh no I have already bought & read Pretty When She Dies, & just finished As The World Dies, girl I am spreading the word. Awesome characters, real flaws that we all have and can relate to in a unreal scenario. Or is it ;)
    Keep it up I'm getting the sequels immediately, & by the way these should be movie material or HBO.



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