Monday, June 17, 2013

Emotional Attachments and Your Characters: Doing it the George R. R. Martin Way

A few weeks ago I wrote about Taking Happily Ever After Away From Your Characters. When I wrote it, I was really thinking in terms of romance writing and character relationships. However, there are lots of other ways to manipulate your readers using emotional attachments.

I was recently reminded of this very lesson when I watched the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones.

I guess winter is no longer coming. If you're a fan of the show, then you know what I'm talking about!

I actually have not read any of the books in the Game of Thrones series. I know, I know! Shame on me, but Mr. Martin is heavily involved in the writing of the HBO series so I feel like I'm getting a pretty accurate representation of what is happening in his books. Of course, if I'd read the book then I wouldn't have been so outraged, so pissed, so disappointed by the Red Wedding episode.

But that's the beauty of Mr. Martin. He totally pulled me into the Game of Thrones world, made me root for particular characters, and then took them away without any warning. He evoked powerful reactions in me that had me thinking about what was going to happen next and the fact that no character is safe in his writing world.

It reminded me a bit of Shakespeare. Most of Shakespeare's main characters had a habit of dying by the end of the story, and I think Mr. Martin is definitely taking a few cues from the bard.

While I was upset at the loss of these characters that I'd come to love, I couldn't help but admire the author. Getting people to care about fictional lives is no easy feat! That takes careful writing and development skills. He manages to hook us by showing through thought, deed, and words that his characters are flesh and blood--they can die even if we don't like it.

And isn't that the way real life is? Unfair, messy, and emotional?

So what can an aspiring author (or any author, for that matter) learn from this? That killing off your main characters is vital to the success of your work? No. In fact, it's something that could potentially back fire on you! However, building attachments is important. Getting your reader to care enough about what might happen to a particular character is vital.

How can a writer do that?

Good dialogue.

Show us, don't tell us.

Make them human by showing us how they handle adversity.

Have them fail and then redeem themselves.

Get them to fall in love for all the wrong reasons and then make those reasons the right ones.

Let the story follow it's path, and if that path should lead to the main character's death, then so be it. (I just hope you're not writing a romance. Main character deaths in romance are big NO-NOs!)

As I settle back and wait for the next season of Game of Thrones, I can't help but wonder what Mr. Martin has in store for me. I suppose I could just go grab the book and read ahead, but that would spoil the surprise at this point. In the meantime, I'll just have to content myself with creating emotional attachments in my own work!


  1. Thanks for the tips! I definitely agree with them, especially the part about getting your characters to fall in love for the wrong reasons and making them the right ones. I recently read a book where the character fell in love for the wrong reasons, but the problem was the author didn't do a good job of turning those reasons into the right ones. Instead, she kept including descriptions of how much the character loved the guy; she kept saying how there was no doubt in her mind that he was the one. But all I had in my mind when I read their love story was doubt, which made it difficult to enjoy the story.

  2. But there is the other side of the coin you may lose a reader of your work. I am still upset with his book 4.

  3. Absolutely. For me, the three main points I'd make from his writing are:

    1. Make sure your 'bad guys' are memorably horrible (this doesn't mean 'splatter', it can be entirely cerebral)

    2. Work to create a 'history' for your characters with traditions, sayings, songs, superstitions etc.

    3. Never be afraid to kill off a hero. If your readers know that the hero will overcome and survive, they know the ending.

    Mr Martin's dialogue is excellent but, IMHO, RD Wingfield's is even better. Even if you don't particularly like the genre or struggle to relate to the 'Britishness' of his books, you'll still enjoy them.