1. Roller
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    Roller New Member

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    Staying Emotionally Distant from Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Roller, Jan 10, 2011.

    I'm in a sort of Catch 22. On the one hand, I want to have as much emotion as possible. On the other, I want to keep a distance so that I am not so bothered by the prospect of writing about one of my favorite characters' head being blown off that I decide against writing it in. Tips?

    Further, I don't want to have a sort of closure scene where a character explains their actions or says "You did good". Death is sudden and ugly. Not some cliche-ridden event that takes a long ass time.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't stay distant - when I have done horrible things to my characters I have cried my way through it, even been physically sick at times.

    You have to put the story first. When my characters are fighting something I do examine it again they are usually right. I know the story is going well when they are resigned to it.
     
  3. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    I've never encountered this problem before, but I suggest having them die painlessly and if possible(only if it's a applicable... use with caution), reintroduce them in ghost form or bring them back to life.

    Make up for this by shamelessly ripping the other characters' heads apart with 2 wrenches tightened over their teeth and a very strong evil maniac psycho killer.
     
  4. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course you are emotionally involved with your characters, you've probably live with them inside your head and been inside their head for sometime. But just like the nurse, the doctor and the social worker have to empathize yet distance themselves from their patients, you have to look upon it as a professional writer and do what you have to do to the best of your ability.
    If you let your emotion get in the way of your writing where do you think your writing will end up?
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a wonderful song about this might be worth looking it up. From the musical City of Angels (I would love to see it), You're Nothing Without Me. It is a dialogue between a writer and his character.
     
  6. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I agree with you Elgaisma. If you don't get close to your characters how are you going to know enough about them write a believable story?

    They have to be real to you so that you can make them real for your reader.
     
  7. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    To a point I agree but, you don't have to let yourself get so emotionally involved with them, so that you can't bump them off if you need to.

    The more you write and the more characters you have. The more characters you have the easier it will be to dispose of them - by whatever means.
    e.g.
    Take a bigamist with three wives - if one wife dies, no matter how sudden, gruesome or painful their death he will not feel too much emotion, after all he has another two wives to fall back on. If he feels the need to show some emotion he will, I'm sure, fake it.

    If a millionaire lost a £20 note, it would mean nothing to him. If an unemployed person with children to feed lost a £20 note it could be catastrophic.

    The more you have at your disposal the better.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    That I am not so sure everybody approaches theirs differently. I have a huge cast of characters to choose from. Well over two hundred between novels and short stories. Even the horrible Reverend I don't like much is going to be hard to kill.

    I shed tears over Angus and the Abbot (my current book is a hundred years on from the first one), even though I know I will write both again, and they both died of old age. One in the arms of his lover, and the other the day after his wife.

    Also found when a character doesn't want to die it might be worth finding out why. I got four books out of Socrates when he refused to go to a watery grave in my first book. He was supposed to get killed off in the third chapter. I have also had characters that have refused to let me save them - one in particular in this book no matter how often I sent him away he kept coming back until I killed him lol

    This whole wip wouldn't have worked without one character refusing to die, and another refusing to live. When they die I cry, when I get to keep them alive I rejoice. When I have to give them a bad time yes it hurts.

    Iris, Augustus and John are just as precious as my other MCs and only known them a week or less :)
     
  9. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I adore my characters to an abnormal degree, and that's exactly why I don't have any problem with killing them off. Confused? Don't be. Because I love them so much, I want to make sure that their stories are as kickass as they can be. I want them to be remembered. If someone must die to that end, then he/she will have a good death... Which, I predict, is more than anyone will be able to say about myself when the time comes.

    You could try thinking of it that way. See if that helps.
     
  10. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    The story is more important than the characters imo. If you have to sacrifice a character or two for the sake of the story then so be it. RIP and move on. They are only figments of the imagination after all.

    Am I being ruthless or practical? I would say the latter.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    But shh don't tell them that you'll hurt their feelings :) sorry lol couldn't resist.
     
  12. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I think that depends on the type of story you like to read. Some people go for plot driven fiction, some prefer character based stories. I like to become involved with the character of the story. Yes the plot is important, but if the characters are weak I soon lose interest.

    I agree that, at times, characters must be sacrificed for the sake of the plot, but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't hurt a bit. If your characters are believable enough for the reader to grow attached to them, (which is what every writer really wants isn't it?) then their demise should be real enough to create a reaction.
     
  13. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    Yesterday I put my character through torture, and after awhile it was starting to make me feel sick to my stomach! She was burned with a branding iron in the shape of a line to represent a tally mark for each day she refused to comply with her captor. She was on her fifteenth day, so the tally went across four other not-yet-healed marks. I went into a little detail about the blisters and how her shirt had fused into her the burns as they healed and had to be peeled off... Then I felt sick for the rest of the night. Glad that's over! lol
     
  14. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    Yes, but don't you want your reader to be emotionally affected by the character getting killed? I would because then they will remember you and your work because you affected them.
     
  15. Godiva
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    Godiva Member

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    I cried like an idiot as I killed off one of my characters. He wasn't even a vital character, but I loved him. A friend who read that scene said that it was the best writing out of what I had written thus far.
     
  16. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    Art is not like science or mathematics or writing a legal document. Art requires emotion, and if you distance yourself emotionally from your art, you're through. If the art doesn't get you emotional, maybe it's not right for you. Emotion shows.

    I put my main character in awful situations, I've twisted her up on multiple levels, and sometimes I feel kind of badly about it. I watch my characters become jealous monsters, abusers, virtual slave-drivers, psychos, victims to their own minds. I can't do that without feeling something, and if something in a story makes me feel nothing I shouldn't be writing it at all. I make myself see from the perspectives of all my different characters, and depending on what happens I feel an emotional response. Is there anything wrong with that? I don't think so.

    As someone who's involved in multiple forms of art, I can say honestly that I only succeed when I have some kind of emotional attachment to my work. Drama, music, etc. all require emotions and insight.

    So your character's death shouldn't be rushed or ignored or dropped. If the story calls for a sudden death, there should be a resonating reaction afterward for the other characters. But a slow death doesn't have to be cliche or unrealistic; there are slow deaths in real life, and they're the most painful. But the quick ones can be shocking. What a lot of people don't realize is that the shock is emotional too.
     
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  17. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO, if you, as their creator, cannot feel an emotional attachment to them, how can you expect readers to? Readers likely will have a much weaker connection than you do, so you want their death to be bothering to you. IMO, let your care not keep you from blowing their head off but rather making their head getting blown off mean something.
     
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  18. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    If a character's role in forwarding the story as come to an end, no matter how strong or interesting that character maybe, then it is time deal with the situation in the best way possible.
     
  19. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sure it is. For all you were upset you had the 'courage' to do what I'm sure you felt had to be done. And obviously you made the right decision.
     
  20. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I agree with you. To continue using a character just because you like it does no favours for the story.
     
  21. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've read a few of your posts and I'm really fascinated by what you mean when you say "your characters refuse to live/die/fight what you wanna do as an author". Can't say I've had the same experience and I don't get the concept - they're characters you've created, and whatever they do, they do it because you wrote it. But you speak of them like they've got a free will of their own. Please please explain! :D I'm just really curious!
     
  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And to the OP, don't stay emotionally distant from your characters. Truth is, I don't even think that's possible - if you know someone, you're going to love them. If you're distant, for me it would seem like you don't actually know your characters at all.

    Your story needs to come first - just make sure when you kill someone off, there's a reason for it. Would make it easier.

    But either way, it's never gonna be easy. I barely know my 2nd MC, and I know I'm gonna kill her off, and I can't see it - I really, really don't wanna do it. I've already written her death scene and it's gonna be horrible when the time finally comes for me to write it for real :(
     
  23. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    They do lol There is a great song from the City of Angels about a writer and one of his characters called You're Nothing Without Me, recommend looking it up on youtube :)

    My characters are created in one of four ways:

    Standard ones that I decide who they are, basic personality, what they do and where they come from, what they wear, what they look like. I know I need them to serve a purpose and I name them. They are the easiest to control and always do what I command of them.

    Ones that pop out of the story whilst I am writing them, again I have most level of control over them. Aside from their creation. I name them decide their looks etc.

    Then I have the ones that evolve recreate themselves, I start with knowing what they do and the story helps me name them,decide their height and build. Even if I started with them like the standard character they may demand a change of name, appearance, personality. The story changes them. (Main ones like that are Angus - he started life as a sweet young man called Jonathan little with dark hair. He ended up 6ft10 built like a Behemoth, blonde hair, and a pair of fists with a hot temper. The Abbot, his basic unplesant personality softened, he got himself a boyfriend he gained red hair, beard and green eyes and he somehow got Alexander as a first name. Nathaniel Smith - was Paul Jackson Palace Facilities manager really dull and boring. He became Nate, his appearance changed radically, his parents were a 500 year old evil man and a sparrow prostitute, and he is became head of secret service). Then from my new set of books I have Augustus Harlow - he began as a mysterious man who had a fling with Gran, and was an announcer at an act in Blackpool. He is now married to Gran, and looks totally different, is more gentile and an academic.) These characters will mostly do what I say but will grumble and complain about it.

    Some characters I don't consciously create they sort of arrive Harry Potter style, full dressed and say hello 'my name is ____' now those characters like Socrates, Iris, and Johnny are the biggest headache - they outright argue every point lol Took me two months to get Socrates to learn to sew.

    Part of why it happens is lack of planning. I don't know where my story is going, and characters I try to kill keep reappearing. Same happened with one I wanted to survive in my current story - he has to be dead or out of the way by the end of the book. Everytime I sent him back to his own kingdom he came back. Even after I had Socrates cheat on him they had a massive blow out. His country was destroyed and he ended up back - he had to die.

    I find it beneficial to give my characters their full free will - it is nearly always right. If I absolutely can't bribe them, shout at them etc It usually isn't right for the story, when they are excited or resigned to a story it is good.

    My blog has some arguements with characters on it,
     
  24. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I still don't get it, but your blog post with Socrates is hilarious! :D My characters generally suffer from being very one-dimensional, or 2, but certainly not much 3D-ness going for mine... T_T
     
  25. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try a short story with one telling the story in first person, present tense and no planning. See what happens lol :)

    Basically they tell the story with Angus, Socrates or Nate (my main characters in those series of stories) - I am inside their head as I write. I have to remove them from myself or it would never work. They are telling the story.

    Those three cannot afford to be 2-D they have to be fully formed 3-D characters or the stories would fall apart.

    With Gran and Johnny the stories are third person so not as vital but it is a habit.
     

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