Friday, April 22, 2011

Never Give Up

My wife and I watch "Friday Night Lights" the TV show. We love Coach Taylor, Mrs. Coach Taylor, and all the rest of the characters (and yes, my wife swoons over Tim Riggins, as apparently does every red-blooded woman in the world). The coach's big motivational phrase for his team in the first two seasons was something that will stick in our minds forever.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

No, this blog post isn't about a TV show. It's not even about football. It's about giving up on a character that is a part of you, that you've given birth to, nurtured, fought with and supported for years. You've stood side-by-side with this character through every rejection, every glimmer of hope and crash of defeat that you feel like they are real. In fact, to you they are more flesh and blood than some of the people you talk to every week.

So what happens when people don't feel the same way about that character? What happens when the public gets to know him or her and thinks they aren't quite the superstar you know they can be? How long do you keep telling their stories?

If you watch movies for kids, you've probably seen Toy Story 3. Remember the scene at the end when the toys are telling Woody that he needs to forget about Andy, that he's grown up and it's time to move on... that it's over? That scene made me a little sad, because I feel the same away about some of my favorite authors' characters that I've grown to love. I know the author will not be around forever and that retirement has to come. But what about the character that I've created? When is it time to move on? When is it time to say, "it was a good run, we tried but it just isn't working"?

A guy I follow on Twitter is debating this. He's written a character for a while and now he's thinking of stopping. It makes me think of Rick Frost, my main character. I have several books either written or planned for Rick. He's a real person to me. I know what kind of car he'll get when he turns 16, his favorite football team, the movie star he considers the 'all-time hottest ever', and so many other things that Rick might as well be a younger brother. But what happens after Rick Frost & the Alaskan Adventure comes out and people don't like Rick as much as I do? How long will I keep it up? How long should this guy I mentioned keep it up?

My advice to him? Listen to your character, not the sales numbers. If you write for anyone other than yourself first, then you are doing that character, that person you feel is as real as anyone else in your life, a terrible disservice. You are thumbing your nose at them. But most of all, you are throwing them the worst insult you could ever hurl: you are saying that they are just a character, that they aren't real and that you were lying to them all along.

Now, if they say that they are done, that you've told everything they want to be known, then it's time to stop. You have treated them with respect and they do not hold any ill will toward you.

Listen to the character; they are real to you. They can be real to everyone else. They deserve it.

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