Monday, May 30, 2011

The Writer's Law of Attachment

Writer's Law of Attachment
By Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion and other thrillers

If you follow The Writing Bomb, you know that I’ve just recently completed a 45-day blog tour followed by a trip to Washington D.C and New York City. Both events were exciting but absolutely wore me out. The kids had a chance to see the nations Capital and much of NYC and I had a chance to rest my brain. 

I resumed writing this past week and man do I miss it! I wrote a little during the blog tour, but not enough. And now, after being away from my latest work for over a month, I’ve had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with my characters, those good friends that I’ve learned to love. In doing so, I’ve been thinking about what it means to become attached to a character, those figments of my imagination. I’ve been wondering if it’s okay to befriend them or if I should keep a healthy emotional distance. If you have any thoughts on this subject I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, what I’ve found is that the more I dive into the lives of my characters, the more real they become. And the more real they become, the more I want to know and understand who they are and where they’ve been. This isn’t a concept that I dwell upon. I’m crashing into this idea because I’m working on a third draft and I’m filling in details and backstory and critical thoughts that are rounding my make-believe friends.

Ernest Hemingway
You see, it’s my character's strengths that get them through the story. But it’s their weaknesses that draw me to them. Ernest Hemingway once said, "When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters." Adding personality glitches is what makes them real. Flaws are what make us people rather than characters. I should know, I have plenty of glitches, plenty of defects and I’m real. I find it quite ironic that as much as I hate my faults, I love the faults of my characters, the people in my stories. Sick, I know, but I think that’s the magic of literature. There’s something very intimate about learning about the faults of others. That’s the difference between a stranger and a friend. A stranger doesn’t know jack about me, but a true friend knows everything. As an author, I feel like it’s my responsibility to share the truth about my characters so my readers can be their friends. 

The question is, is it wrong to grow attached to these people in the process? And that’s where I’m stuck. I write stories about people that don’t exist. They’re not real. They’re fictional but they’re meant to come alive. And if they’re meant to seem real to a reader than I think it’s okay for me to get emotionally attached. It’s what gets me into the story. In my opinion, attachment is what makes the author capable of transmitting an idea into something palpable. Attachment is what allows me to enter the mind of a protagonist and think and live on his or her behalf. I call it the Law of Attachment: A reader will relate to the people in a story to the degree that the author has grown attached to those people.

If you’re a writer, you understand that experience. It’s almost spiritual in nature and I think this experience is what keeps me writing. This strange relationship between author and character is the high I often refer to, the shot in the arm that causes writers to become literary junkies. Makes me wonder if author adrenalin can be measured and used as a tool to discover ones predisposition to writing. Hey! You never know. Science has proven some pretty incredible things.

Anyway, if you’re a reader, none of this really matters except the fact that the process might interest you. In the end, all that matters is that the book draws you in and that you can engage with the characters as they make their way through the journey. But know this, the folks inside those pages are friends of mine; they’re friends of King and their friends of Koontz and Konrath and Nicholson. And one day, if all goes as planned, they'll be your friend too. BOOM!

What do you think? Leave comments and please, share this with your Facebook & Twitter pals.


  1. Hi Jeff. I'm glad y'all enjoyed such a wonderful family vacation. Both my critique partner and I become very attached to our characters, plus we become involved with each other's characters. When my cp gets busy, I worry about what Mary (her mc) is getting herself into and can't wait to find out. Once my cp said she was getting a crush on my male mc, and as goofy as it sounds, I felt a little jealous. And I feel a certain amount of grief when I end a book. Sharon Sala in our local writing group says that if you're not crying when you write it, readers won't cry when they read it. I agree that if they don't become flesh and blood to you as an author, then they will definitely come across as cardboard cutouts to the reader and I know I don't want to read books like that. I think it's wrong for a serious author to distance themselves from their characters because it translates onto the page. Readers want to be inside the story, not peeking into a window. I know I'm truly preaching to the choir and that you already have the answer, but since you asked, I got very excited about the answer, lol.

  2. Thanks, Brenda. That's exactly what I was hoping to hear. Sometimes I don't know if I'm doing the right things untill my writerly friends confirm it. Here's to our tears. Cheers!


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