Thursday, August 26, 2010

Real or Not Real?

I finished Mockingjay in one day. And I'll probably read it again this weekend. Yeah, I'm sick, I know.

If you've finished, you'll get this. If you've read the first two, but haven't had a chance to read Mockingjay, don't worry I'm not going to spoil anything and I'm sure you'll still get just slams home even harder after you're done. You know that emotional grip in the first two? Multiply it by thousands by the time you're done. And for those who haven't read these, as a friend and a writer-pal, I have to ask: Why the hell not????

Anyway...I finished late Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. Ever since, I've been in this emotional stupor, especially yesterday. My heart has been aching for everything that happened, for the characters, for the series to go on. I could barely focus on my own real life (and definitely not on my writing) because my mind kept going to the story and the characters and feeling all those emotions again.

Then I finally thought, "This actually happened and these people exist. Real or not real?" And I have to keep reminding myself that. Right now, with the freshness of the story and the ending, these characters feel so alive, I have to remind myself they're not. Their world feels so real, I have to remind myself it doesn't exist. Nobody has really suffered through all that.*

And what it comes down to, why I'm writing this, is to drive home the point that characters make a story. The Hunger Games series has a great plot with lots of action, twists, turns and surprises. It might have been a fairly good story even if we didn't really "get" the characters.

But it's a great, amazing, incredible, [insert positive adjective] story because we become  emotionally attached to the characters. We feel what they're feeling - their pain, their love, their joys, their defeats, their losses, their fears...all of it. This emotional connection brings us into their world, as if we're living through everything right there with them. And that's why, when we read "The End," we look up and think, "Whoa, where am I?", disoriented in our own homes. That's why we can't stop thinking about them hours or days later. That's why these stories become so memorable.

To really make your story memorable, you need characters who are memorable. They need to feel real, with strengths, weaknesses, mistakes and accomplishments. And they need emotions, because that's where we really connect with them. We may not understand their motives, they may be smarter or dumber than us, they might not be physically "our type." But if we feel them, we care about them. And if we deeply care about them, we remember them.

There are tons of blog posts and other resources about the importance of having three-dimensional characters. This isn't anything new. But Mockingjay and the rest of the series serves as the epitome of this truth. Besides, it's pretty much all I can think about right now.

So...are your characters real or not real?

*Yes, real people have suffered similar - and worse - tragedies, but that's not my point for this post.


  1. Ah, the "real or not real" game was perhaps my favorite part of the last book. Great thoughts on character depth and the series!

  2. I loved the game, too. Especially at the end. ;-)

  3. As soon as I saw this title I got goosebumps. I loved that game too.

    I read it yesterday. It really does leave you a bit stunned, right?

    I think you're bang on about the characters too. They were so REAL. For some reason I really like Finnick now.


  4. What a fantastic post! and so very true. If I cannot get into the mind and the skin of the characters then the book does nothing for me. Mockingjay, well....I'm still stunned by how much I feel for those characters; how much I want to protect them, save them, help them...jump inside the book and say...well, anything to fix it. And Team ____ I will always and forevermore be....I even had the t-shirt BEFORE the book arrived! Go ____! and Kristie, awesome post about character development!

  5. Dawn, I can't believe you haven't read them! What???? LOL Just kidding. I know you have a lot going on. But when you get a chance, especially as a YA writer, you should read these. There's a lot to analyze and learn, especially when you read readers' comments on Goodreads. It's an excellent series and good third book, but there are good what-not-to-do lessons, too.

  6. Mia, I <3 Finnick, too. The further away I get from it and from reading others' thoughts online, I think the being stunned part has a lot to do with how many loose ends were left. Plus, how confusing the end was.

  7. Stacy, I love it when I have this overwhelming need to hug the characters. I feel that way about my own, especially when I'm about to do something terrible to them or right after. There are only a few others' books that have grabbed me that hard. Thanks for posting!

  8. I did the same thing! Wandered around for days unable to live because I was still so emotionally tied up in knots from this amazing book series. Collins is prime example of how to hook a reader and drag them through everything the characters get put through.

    Real or not real and the phrase Tick Tock from Catching Fire will always be with me. Can't listen to that stupid Kei$ha song without thinking of the games.


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