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There's a quality I like a lot in fiction, which I have difficulty quantifying, but which I can nevertheless recognize very quickly. I like it when creators have affection for their characters. Some characters are just Mary Sue-stand-ins for the authors, with all the wish-fulfillment options, and some are constructs meant to advance a plot, and some are just badly drawn or insufficiently thought-out, and some are just eh. But occasionally I encounter characters who seem real and vibrant and awkward and most of all endearing, and you can tell by the things they go through in their narratives that the author has great affection for them. I've been known to turn to Heather at movies and say "Wow, this guy really loves his characters." For instance, we saw Happy Endings, a sort of meandering indie flick with some nice moments and some dull moments, but what kept me watching overall was the sympathy with which these flawed, self-centered characters were depicted. They had their foibles, but they were shown to be human, to be striving to better themselves, to be yearning for a better world. The Station Agent and Love Actually are the same -- their plots are nothing to write home about, but the characters keep me going, because I like them, and like spending time with them, and I think that likeability comes from the affection their creators have for them. There are books that have the same quality, too -- hell, I love the Bridget Jones books, even though by pretty much any description they aren't my "kind of thing," but the character's voice and charm and whimsy keep me interested; hell, enthralled. It's why I read The Wheel of Time series for so long (I gave up after book 7 or 8, I think) -- because I found Perrin and Mat and Rand and Egwene and Nynaeve charming. It's what makes Avram Davidson's "Limekiller" stories so wonderful, why Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners" is so enthralling, why Watership Down made me give a damn about rabbits.

In Rangergirl, I love my characters. (This makes it difficult for me to kill them, admittedly, which can be a drawback.) I even love the villains. In my stories, the people are more important than the plot. (If there's a hierarchy, it goes: cool ideas/images, characters, setting, with plot a distant fourth. Of course there's not a hierarchy, because all those elements are inextricably interconnected, but in terms of what gets me excited about a story, that's pretty much the way it stacks up.)

I don't think of myself as being particularly gifted when it comes to creating characters, but every once in a while some characters emerge in my writing that really charm me, that I really love, and I can only hope that readers feel the same way about them. It doesn't happen all the time, and I certainly create my share of convenient-to-the-plot characters, but when it does happen, mmm. It's nice. That's when I think I'd like to write a series, so I could keep coming back to characters I love again and again, and spend more time with them. Like my character Marla Mason, from the stories "Haruspex" and "Pale Dog" and the novel Blood Engines (which I hope to sell sometime soon). I could keep writing about her for ages, and just yesterday I got an idea for another novel about her. I think back to the lousy novels I wrote before Rangergirl, and what they all have in common is characters I love, immensely appealing people (even if they're villainous) that I love hanging out with, mentally speaking. Even now, thinking back on those awkward, poorly-written, incoherently plotted books, I smile, because of the characters. The characters were often right, even if everything else was wrong. And the characters in the Bridge novel are the same way -- the more I write about these people, Darrin and Bridget and Ismael and Echo and Orville and Arturo, the more I like them. A couple of them will have to die (one dies in the first chapter), and that's already making me sad. And some of them will triumph, and that makes me happy. Being a writer is really a pretty wonderful thing sometimes.

Hanging out with my characters isn't as good as hanging out with my dearest and nearest best friends, but since I can't hang out with all of them every day, well, the characters in my books (and in books by others) keep me going in those lonely in-between times. Which is one of the magical things literature can do.

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