Establishing a Strong Relationship With an Offscreen Character (Analyzing Shadow and Bone)

I've been going back and forth a lot about this blog lately.  As you've most likely noticed,  I haven't been able to post many original craft posts, and even the Brain Science roundup posts have been haphazard. Nowadays, paid work takes priority over blogging.

A month ago I decided to close this blog down, and had settled on that decision for about 24 hours before I made a 180 degree turn and decided to make a conscious effort to write more craft posts.  Why?  Because I'm the one who learns the most from writing these-- taking the time to analyze books I admire and figuring out why I admire them. 

So, here's the TLDR.  I'm going to make an effort to blog more, but to make this feasible, the posts will be less polished than before.  I used to spend a lot of time editing blog posts, but now I'm just going to focus on getting the ideas down. Hopefully, people will still find them useful.

On to the book of the day.  I'm two books into The Grisha series and enjoying it immensely.  (Moderate spoilers for Shadow and Bone). One thing that struck me, was the relationship between Alina and her childhood friend Mal. Mal plays a very large role in later parts of the story, and in order to make the developments believable, the reader must be convinced that Alina and Mal are very close.  The tricky part though?  Mal's off screen, in another part of the country, for much of the first half of the book.

So how does Bardugo establish this convincingly strong emotional relationship between Alina and Mal when he's not even around? 

1.  A prologue highlighting their formative years growing up together. They were orphans who grow up as playmates in the Duke's Palace.

2.  A first chapter highlighting the strength of their current relationship and shared experiences. In the first chapter, the two are still very protective of each other.  When Mal almost dies in encounter with dark beasts, he tells Alina that he'll, "see her in the meadow."  This refers to a shared special experience between the two of them.

3. Alina is always thinking about Mal.  Even if he's not personally present, he's always on her mind.  Every time she sees something new in the Grisha Palace, she wonders what Mal would think.  When she puts on nice clothes, she wonders what his reaction would be.  She's constantly trying to send letters to him and find out how he's doing.

4. A significant plot development hinging on the strength of their relationship. Alina has trouble controlling her newfound Grisha powers.  Her breakthrough finally comes when she realizes she's been subconsciouslly suppressing her powers because she feared becoming a Grisha would take her permanently away from Mal.

Because of all these and other factors, by the time Mal come back into the story, the reader is emotionally prepared for the role he plays.

What do you think, readers?  Any other examples of offscreen characters that carry emotional weight?

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  1. I agree about learning from taking the time to analyze things. Having to write it out so someone else understands forces us to clarify our own thinking. Glad you're staying with it.

  2. Glad you're staying with the blog. I agree that there is lots to be learned from analyzing how other authors do things and I'm glad that you're sharing your thoughts.