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 this…it 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 books…um, 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.