1. struggler
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    struggler Member

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    Semi-inconsequential character development and the reader

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by struggler, Apr 27, 2013.

    So I've written a story and a little bit past the start my main character finds out his wife has died after returning home from war (medieval setting). I did include a few memories about her during the story that my main character thinks about to help flesh her out and a character description, however a comment I've had after giving it to someone to read was that they didn't really know that much about her and found it hard to care about her passing away.

    Now I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to do. Her passing wasn't meant to majorly pull on any reader's emotions. You can't really feel that way without investing some time into reading about a character I know. The point was how my main character felt about her passing. The reader should care that he cares.

    I'm not sure what to do now. DO I need to give this character more exposition?
     
  2. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    So what you actually want to do is not make the reader care about her, but rather care about the effect her death has on her husband. That can only be expressed by writing about his feelings, his state of mind and his behavior after he finds out she is dead and not by giving more information about her. If I know a character is dead before i get to know him/her, why should I invest time getting to know that character whose story is already over and doesn't contribute to the story i am currently reading?
     
  3. Anthelionryu
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    Anthelionryu Member

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    You might also consider your reader. People are quirky. Let more people read it and see if they perceive it differently.
     
  4. Eric242
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    Eric242 Member

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    Xatron brings up a good point. A part of caring for a character's death comes from following them through a journey. This death is all about making the reader care enough about your main character that they are crushed when they finally see her die. It's all about his reaction.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Did your main character (the warrior) cling to thoughts and memories of his wife while he was at war, in order to keep him going? Did he constantly think about 'when this is all over, we'll be together again'? Of course, when he gets home and finds that she has died, he would certainly be devastated.

    The more you can emphasize his dependence on his wife to get him 'through' his war experience, the better. Don't focus on her as a character. Focus on how much he misses her—and why—BEFORE he discovers she has actually died. It's his grief at her loss that will make us feel for him.

    Anthelionryu has a good point, though. Get as many 'readers' on board as you can.
     
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  6. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    So the dead wife is just there to make the hero seem sympathetic? If that's her only purpose, that makes her more of a plot point than an actual character, which is probably why a reader wouldn't be too invested in her or her relationship with the hero.

    Why is it important for the hero to be mourning his wife? How does it effect the plot?

    Also, take into consideration just what it is that he's missing now that she's gone. What was their relationship like, and why did he choose to marry her in the first place? What kinds of things remind him of her?

    Too often people will throw in a dead wife/girlfriend/mother to make readers feel sorry for their main character, but all the focus is on the character who's still alive, and the only glimpses we get of the dead character is about how much they loved the main character, or just how beautiful they were. It tends to give the impression that the readers should feel sorry for the main character because he lost something pretty and valuable, rather than an actual person who he shared his life with.

    If you want readers to sympathize with the hero losing his wife, show that she was a person who was very dear to the hero, not just "the dead wife."
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with the others that said that you need to give his experience more exposition. And it could be seemingly prosaic things. When he had a wife at home, perhaps he came home to a warm, clean, firelit space, and now he comes home to the same cold, dusty untidy space that he left it when he last left home. When he's hungry, no one's there to feed him. The bed is rumpled and cold and empty when he climbs in. Her herb bed by the front door is dead, and so the scent of leaving and retuning home is gone. The house smells of the mice that no one is there to guard against. He's suppressing his actual grief for her, because he feels that it's unmanly, but it's these little things that keep piercing that shield.

    That's just one way to attack this; there are a dozen dozen others. I'm slightly embarrassed that the main book that I think of as an example of a widower's grief isn't some fancy on-the-curriculum-list classic, but instead _Proof_, by Dick Francis. But I do think that he presents that grief pretty effectively.
     
  8. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Perhaps your hero didn't behave as bereft as he should be if the love of his life just passed away. That kind of pain takes over a person's life. He'd be struggling with his tasks, having dark thoughts, perhaps lashing out or drinking or engaging in self-destructive behaviour. He might not admit to the other characters in his environment how he feels, but the narrative of his internal state should be rife with his unique expression of grief. People react differently to the same thing, but it would be noticeable in the plot. If he is going about his business and occasionally remembering her fondly, that doesn't quite work.
     
  9. Mal-Madrake
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    Mal-Madrake Member

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    According to me this is where great books distinguish themselves from merely good books. By "bringing to life" characters that are dead and making you at least partially care about who they were and what they did. As an example I would give you Prince Rhaegar from The Song of Ice and Fire. He is dead even before the book begins and yet I as a reader profoundly care about him and I mourn his passing because the author explained what a swell guy he was and in which ways he was nice. (any Baratheon fans may go have their fury elsewhere)
     
  10. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    In agreement with others, I believe that the sadness of someone dying is much worse if the character mourning her had been very happy just prior to discovering it, especially if he was happy because he was soon to see her. If he had made plans to do things with her, go places. The more emotion, actually, that you write about BEFORE he discovers it, the more the contrast of his emotions thereafter will strike us, perhaps.


    Edit:

    This statement, to me, smacks of a narrow mindset. (Not intellectually dishonest or malicious, merely not thinking in broader thoughts.)
    If the writer does his job correctly, then even if a person IS there just as a plot point, it should not be obvious to the reader. Everything, really, is a plot point, even the characters. In many books, great books, there are plenty of incidental and transient characters, happenings or conversations that exist solely because the author thought those moments would be funny, or interesting.

    Irrespective of whether or not she exists solely for the purpose of being a sympathetic plot point, the fact is that if she is written properly, it will be of utterly no consequence.
     
  11. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I completely agree with this. You don't have to really flesh out the wife to show how much she meant to your main guy and how hard it is on him to lose her. Just give plenty of development of his feelings for her throughout the story up until the time he finds out she's dead. If this is near the beginning of the book, I can't think of any way to facilitate this other than adding more content (delaying the discovering).

    I can care about a person's heartbreak if I don't know the other half of the equation as long as I'm invested in the fate of that person and understand the depth of the relationship.
     
  12. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    Not quite sure what you mean by this - in what way do I have a "narrow mindset," exactly? What are these broader thoughts I'm missing? (And was it really necessary to call me narrow-minded instead of just arguing your point?)

    That's a fair point. From the way the OP described the situation, it sounded pretty obvious that the dead wife was a mere plot point, which is why I felt the need to point it out. But I do agree with you here - so long as it's not obvious, the writer can definitely pull it off.
     
  13. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    I agree with this.
     

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