Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Character, Character, Character!


Heard of the movie? I’d read a couple of reviews, watched the trailer, and knew it was sad. So, armed with tissues, five of us toddled off to the local cinema.

Everything seemed normal at first. There were the usual sounds of lolly bags being wrestled open, frozen Cokes hurtling up straws, low-key chatter during the ads and previews. And then, the instant the movie began, a collective ‘Awwwwwww?’ erupted from all around us. Loud, shrill, and very, very female.

I looked at my bestie. She looked at me. I caught my daughter’s eye and then that of her friend. They both raised eyebrows and shrugged, as did my sister-in-law next to me. What was going on?

Teenage girls, that’s what.

The ‘awwww’s just kept on coming – every time Augustus spoke. Every time he smiled. Every time he so much as raised an eyebrow.

And then came the tears. Except they weren’t just tears. They were sobs. Violent ones. So loud in some parts we couldn’t actually hear the movie. The girl in front of me rocked as she cried into a jumper shoved against her mouth. And I kid you not, the girl behind me was curled in a foetal position. And then, when I looked around, I saw there were literally hundreds of them doing it. Yeah, I was a little freaked.

Once the movie ended (and it was a beautiful story), us twenty-, forty- and fifty-somethings stayed glued in our seats, watching the aftermath with a kind of macabre fascination. Girls sat huddled on the stairs, arms around each other. Group selfies were taken, even videos. After fifteen gobsmacked minutes, we left them to it.

So why did this happen? Why did this movie have such an effect on these girls?

I asked one of them (several had recognised me from their primary school days where I’d been a teacher) and she was more than willing to explain. Between sobs, that is. Yep, she was still crying and shaking twenty minutes after the credits had finished.

She had read the book, she said, over and over. As had all her friends. She was going home to read the book again if she could. She mightn’t because she’d probably get even more upset. She just LOVED the characters. They meant so much to her.

Talk about a smack between the eyes. (Me, I mean, not my young friend J)

These girls would have had the same reaction if Hazel and Augustus had been Medieval peasants rather than contemporary Americans. Why? Because John Green, the author of 'The Fault in Our Stars', had made them so real and engaging, they had leapt off the page and into their hearts.

So, I’m throwing it out there by saying this:

If my characters don’t connect with my readers, I’m wasting my time.

I could have the most beautiful and eloquently described setting; a clever and intriguing plot; godly themes. But if I have wooden rather than resonating characters, my story will be weak and illicit only a small amount of empathy. And that’s the last thing I want.

I’m a visual learner. Therefore, my movie experience was a brilliant, God-given eye-opener. Because I saw the impact on several hundred lives made by excellently crafted characters. And as a writer (and a Christian), I have the potential to do that. It may take a lot of practice, but I’m determined to get there. Anyone want to join me?

About Andrea Grigg
Andrea writes contemporary romance. Her second novel Too Pretty will be released on August 1 by Rhiza Press. Her first novel A Simple Mistake was a finalist in the CALEB Awards 2012

Andrea would love to hear from you via her website or Facebook page:
http://www.andreagrigg.com/
https://www.facebook.com/author.andreagrigg


25 comments:

  1. What an incredible story! I would never imagine such a response. I hope my characters are strong enough to get such a reaction Andrea!

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    1. Given us something to aim for, hasn't it? Wow. I'm still reeling :)

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  2. Andrea, that's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. What a marvellous outpouring of grief over fictionalized characters.
    Oh, for such a connection with my readers!!!! Perhaps I'll just have to kill off some of my characters to get it. Aw, I prefer happy endings.Still, just goes to show what we all need to aim for.

    My hubby's mouth dropped open when I read this to him!

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    1. My mouth still falls open when I relive the experience! But it spoke to me nonetheless :)

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    2. I must say, Rita, the five of us 'older' girls were torn between laughing and shaking our heads the whole time. Another funny thing was the expression on the face of the male cleaner. He couldn't do his job because no one was leaving and he just stood there, leaning on his broom/sweeper/thingy with this incredulous look on his face. It was priceless!

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  3. Such a good reminder, Andrea, that our characters need to jump out from that page and truly engage our readers' hearts. I think you did a great job in this blog of making those poor girls at the movies so real to us, so you have 'shown' us as well as 'told' us even here! I'm hopeless at sad movies, so I really related to these girls--but I don't think even I would go to those extremes!

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    1. Extreme is the correct word for sure! It reminded me of all those black and white flim clips of hysterical girls at a Beatles concert. Amazing. And mesmerising.

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  4. Loved this post, Andrea. I haven't seen the movie or read the book, but more and more, I'm tempted to check it out. Yes, engaging characters will divide the great books from the so-so. A needed reminder. :-)

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    1. While we can practice the art of characterisation I think some people just have the knack right from the get-go, don't you? Clearly, John Green had it in this book :)

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  5. Hear so much about this book. Will have to read it. I can relate, as I am a person who gets very involved with characters. Have been known to cry at certain books and movies. Good aim to try and write strong characters people relate to. Thanks for telling us and challenging writers, Andrea.

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    1. Thanks Dale. I love it when I'm drawn in to a book or movie. Then I re-read or re-watch, more than once. I'll be watching this one again - under quieter circumstances though :)

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  6. I've bought the book, but haven't read it yet. My daughter (14) has, and has seen the movie. Now she's waiting for me to read the book so she can talk to me about it ...

    And while I might not go to these extremes, the characters in Too Pretty did leap off the page. I admit that means I wanted to whup Nate around the head for being such a MALE, but the emotional connection was definitely there. I'm interviewing Andrea on my blog next Monday, and reviewing Too Pretty on Tuesday, so drop by!

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    1. Lol, I wanted to smack Nate a few times myself but he let me sort him out in the end :) Very glad to hear you had an emotional connection - no matter what kind!

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  7. LOL. I just asked my own teenage daughter - who went and saw this movie on opening day, and who has also read the book - if this was similar to what happened in the cinema when she went. 'Pretty much,' was her reply.

    I might just have to have a read, and see what the commotion's all about. :)

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    1. I've still to read it Amanda but I'm going to for sure. I'll be studying it at the same time, I suspect. I really want to know how he did it!

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  8. They sound like my daughter's friends. She is 15 and suspicious of hype but they insisted on taking her along. He certainly knew his audience, as do the Pokemon authors who keep managing to wow young boys. I agree with you about the importance of character. Did you need those tissues, Andrea?

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    1. Lol, Paula. Fair question. No, I didn't need the tissues because being gobsmacked totally overrode any other emotion! I have every intention of watching it again at home when it comes out on DVD and having a good cry then. I felt kind of robbed, to be honest. I think I'm a bit like Dale, going by her comments above ;)

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  9. Couldn't agree more, Andrea. I'm a character-driven reader and am (I hope) in my writing as well.

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    1. No character, no audience, I'm thinking. Thanks for stopping by, Lynne :)

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  10. I'd have to agree that without compelling characters, there's no real story to tell. I may get plot ideas, and file them away for future reference, but that doesn't compel me to want to write about it. However, when a character invades my thoughts, that's when the story comes to life. And all on its own, I would almost swear.

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    1. I think it's a good sign when characters hi-jack your carefully planned story and make it their own. Character invasion is a good name for it, Ellie!

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  11. That's a wonderful reminder to create characters who are vivid and real.

    You're right Andrea - it doesn't matter if they're contemporary characters, lived 100 years ago or 1000 years ago.

    The commonality of the human experience through emotion - we live, love, laugh, cry the same as we always did from the beginning of time means that we should always bring our readers along on the 'human' journey with us regardless of how strange or foreign the setting us.

    Thank you very much for such a great post.

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  12. While I prefer contemporary settings, I'll read pretty much anything, as long as the characters grab me. As you say, the 'human' journey is what connects us and can make us feel like we're in the midst of it along with our characters, when it's done right. Sigh. I love a good book! Thanks for stopping by, E.E. Carter :)

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  13. Andrea, fascinating post! Readers want to connect with the characters, irrespective of the genre.

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  14. It was a fascinating experience, Narelle! I wonder if I'll ever see it again. Hope so, in a strange kind of way :)

    Must say I'm keen to attend more workshops on creating characters. It's the key to good writing in my mind.

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