Over the last few months, I’ve been labouring my way through the ‘Outlander’ series by Diana Gabaldon. Maybe labouring is an unfair term; it implies a certain joylessness and that’s not strictly true. What is true is that:
a) the Outlander books are long. Very, very, very long…
b) the quality of the books varies enormously. Writing long, with so many spin offs, subplots and miraculous escapes, it’s easy to get flabby. In books this size, those flabby scenes can run to whole chapters, rather than just a weak paragraph or page.
And yet, despite this, I’m still going – working my way through Book 8 Written in my Own Heart’s Blood. The reason is simple – however meandering the storyline, the characters are keeping me there. Diana Gabaldon gives good character!
Characters are crucial. We can love them or hate them but we need to care about what happens to them, more than anything else that’s going on in our lives. Sod the unwashed dishes or unfiled taxes – I need more of Jamie Fraser, who still wears a kilt better than any man who ever actually existed. I need to know whether Claire Fraser will be reunited with Jamie and Bree. I need to know if she’s finally going to get her superpowers. And if I have to read another thousand pages to find out, then dammit, that’s what I’ll do!
When you’re writing, it goes without saying that you care about your characters. You couldn’t make it through the writing and editing process if you didn’t. In the end though, it doesn’t matter how much you like them. What matters is whether your readers do.
Make readers care. In books, as in life, we’re more forgiving of those we love.
NB: If you’ve somehow missed out on the wonder of Jamie Fraser, you’ll find a whole lot of love for him on Book Perfume, where the meme above came from.