One of the pieces we read for writer’s group was a section from the middle of a story. Prior to where we came in, a character had died and we were now reading everyone’s reaction. This piece was our first introduction to any of the characters, dead or alive.
All the characters were shocked at the death, and rightly so. All the characters reacted differently; confusion, anger, profound sadness. Again, rightly so. However, as a reader, I felt incredibly detached. I know that’s because I didn’t know who anyone was. The whole process of their mourning seemed long (I know, I know, we only read five pages at a time, so I’m being overly critical). Of course, I didn’t know the deceased character, so I felt no sense of loss.
Fast forward about a month. I’m editing my own story and it turns out that it OPENS with a character dealing with her father’s death…a character no one has met. I’m throwing my readers into this mourning period with absolutely no background information. On purpose. D’oh!
Julia has to mourn. If she doesn’t the character is unbelievable (or incredibly unlikable), but how much is too much? I’m trying to weave character discovery into the mourning…as she remembers him, you learn more about her father. However, even I’m starting to feel that it’s too much. Blah, blah, you’re sad, get off the bed and do something!
So, how much is too much? When does a character’s mourning become self indulgent?