This might be a weird, kinda rambly one. Also on the shorter side because I’m really trying to get through all these manuscript notes before my editor goes on vacation.
Also, if you came here for some reason expecting financial advice… seriously, how did you end up here? I’m really curious. But, no, not what I’m going to be blabbering on about. Buy low. Sell high. Diamonds are inherently worthless. Go green.
That’s all I’ve got for you on that front.
What I want to talk to you about is investment in stories. One issue I see a lot is a sort of general assumption that we’ll just care about the characters in stories. This is a story about Dot. Dot’s a person. You care about people. Hey, look you’re invested in my story.
Except Dot isn’t a person. She’s a fictional character. I made her up. You know she’s not real. Heck, you know she’s not even a character
. She’s just a name, even if you didn’t really acknowledge it until I just pointed it out now. Seriously, what color are her eyes? What’s she wearing?
How tall is she? And she’s a name I use all the time for these generic examples, one I lifted from a cartoon I watched all the time back in my twenties.
That’s why you kinda skimmed past her and why you’re waiting for me to get on with whatever hints I’m going to offer, right? You’ve got no reason to linger on her. She’s barely a placeholder. She’s punctuation in a vaguely human form.
Jump back. That’s a great way to think of it. The lingering. When we keep thinking about the characters or the story after we’re done reading. We wonder what happens to them next. We try to figure out the puzzle. We hope Wakko gets what’s coming to him. Because we all know he deserves what’s coming.
That’s investment. These characters or stories are sticking around. They’ve earned a few hours or days or maybe years of free rent in my head. Enough to make me keep going back to the story to see how things turn out, and maybe even enough that I find that storyteller and beg them for more.
We get investment through characters. Ones we can, on some level, relate to. Characters we can believe in within the world of this story. And, yeah, ones we like reading or watching stories about.
When we connect to characters this way, they become, to some extent, real people. We project onto them, and so they get bigger than the page, bigger than the screen. I may be off base, but I think it’s the moment when we start thinking of them in terms of ourselves. Maybe we empathize with how they feel about something, or remember what it was like to be in a similar situation. Maybe it’s agreeing with their stance or envying their accomplishment. It might even be a wish-fulfillment thing we know we’d never really do—I wish I had the guts to quit like that. Or the ability to take down a worldwide crime syndicate because one of those bastards killed my dog.
That’s investment. That’s us letting these characters in the same way we’d let a person into our lives. We think about them. We want to know how they’re doing. We consider their existence past that bit we’re told. We actively worry about them, get excited for them, want them to win
Y’see, Timmy, without that investment in the characters and the story we’re just… reading. Watching. Observing dispassionately from a distance. The only connection is eye contact, and the minute that’s broken we’ve got nothing.
If any of you follow along
during my Saturday geekery movie sessions, there’s a phrase you’ve probably seen me use once or thrice or every other movie
. “Who am I supposed to be rooting for?” So many of these stories push characters who just aren’t likable or relatable in any way. They’re obnoxious. They’re cruel. They’re ignorant. They’re sexist. They’re just plain annoying
. And they’re supposed to be the hero
Because of this, it’s tough to get invested in these stories. The characters are literally pushing me away from them. And if I keep watching under these conditions, well…it’s easier to focus on the flaws because there’s really nothing else to focus on. I mean, these movies are rarely known for their top-notch special effects.
I should ask myself a few questions as I get started. Why should someone be invested in my story? What am I offering? What’s here that my readers are going to like or relate to? Are they going to believe in my characters… or roll their eyes at them?
Oh, wow. Next time’s the Fourth of July. I’m going to be eating grill-cooked food and playing with little toy soldiers and just possibly enjoying a beverage or two. So no post next Thursday.
Maybe on Wednesday I’ll talk about computers a bit.
Until then, go write.