Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Downton Abbey and the Power of Familiarity

My local chapter mates convinced me to give Downton Abbey a try. So now we've just been through a marathon of Downton Abbey-watching: one episode a day from the very first one up to the most recent one.

And it has been making me think about series. What is it that makes us so addicted? Why do millions of people get so excited to watch the latest escapades of a fictional family who lived far away and long ago?

There's the fun of the settings, the costumes, the hairstyles, and the slang, of course. The fun of taking a peek into a world far removed from our own. But that kind of curiosity wears thin quickly, I think.

I think it's not the distance from our own lives that keeps us coming back week after week. I think it's the recognition of ourselves in the people: haven't we all known an Edith, who struggles to find a place for herself in the world while being overlooked by most around her? Haven't we all met a stalwart Mrs. Hughes, or a gentle but a bit out-of-touch Cora, or a crusading Isobel? Do we recognize the bitterness and rejection behind Thomas's nasty actions? And I hope we all have been lucky enough to know someone as quietly heroic as Mr. Bates.

I think the power of a series like Downton is in the links the audience builds with the characters over time. We argue over the choices they make, we root for them, we cheer and we boo at every new development in their lives.

It's a powerful thing for an audience to be invested in the happiness of fictional characters.

How can we bring that power to our own writing? How do we get readers so invested in the characters' lives that they boo when something goes wrong and cheer when it goes right?

I'm still learning, myself, but I think Downton Abbey shows that the flaws in the characters, their foibles, their little triumphs and losses, are at least as important as the main plot of the story.

I think a scene where Anna and Mr. Bates are kept apart is only powerful because we know of their long struggles. And watching Thomas cry real tears for the loss of another person is much more moving because we know how rarely he allows himself to care about another. It's the history we share with the characters that gives meaning to those small moments.

How do you build a connection between the reader and your characters? If you have the luxury of writing a series, and revisiting the same characters over time, how do you try to keep the reader invested in the lives of your story people?



On my own blog this month I'll be profiling the "People of Pajaro Bay" on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and highlighting joyful things in life in my "Good Fridays" feature. You can follow the posts through any of the links above.

1 comment:

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

How do you build a connection between the reader and your characters? Great question! I was hoping you would answer it. :)

I'm hoping part of the answer is that familiarity. With each new release of my Halo Legacy Series, I've been introducing the main characters and villains on my blog. (I was lax on my January release but will be catching up this month.)

And once the last contracted book of the series is written, I plan to focus on beefing up information about the series on my Web site, and taking another look at new avenues for promoting this series.

Maybe I'll even have time to watch Downtown Abbey. :)