How to help people care about your character5 min read

by Sep 16, 2016Writing0 comments

We’ve all read books where we didn’t much care for the main characters.  It’s no fun.  You sit there hoping against hope that they may redeem themselves in the next chapter with a swift roundhouse kick to the personality, but it doesn’t happen.

So, what can you do to make sure people care about your characters?

For starters, your character should be flawed.  This might be overdone advice, but it’s true.

face-1283106_1920You can think about it like this.  You love your friends (I hope).  But you hide their stories on your Facebook feed because you’re fed up of seeing their perfect sun-filled holidays, their perfect non-screaming-non-bug-eating children, or their perfect coiffure on a night out.  No one can continually love the perfect.  Like Facebook feeds, we all know it’s only half the story of that human, so it immediately rings hollow.

No one wants to read about a character with a perfect GPA, who always understands the best way to handle a situation, and consistently does the morally correct thing.  We’d much rather read A Clockwork Orange.  Or, if our tastes don’t run that extreme, roll our eyes at Ron when he gets jealous of Harry.

No one says a flaw has to be heavily damaging.  Your characters don’t have to be battling psychopathic tendencies or the need to drink human blood.  The flaws in our characters are often humanising.  They help readers to identify with the characters.  And it’s not much of a leap from identifying with someone to caring for them.  You’ve been in their shoes, you know jealousy sucks, and you’re still awesome.  So Ron, with his fits of jealousy, must be awesome too.  QED.

Your character should have agency.

captureNow I love plot as much as the next Plotist user.  But you can’t always use *surprise kitten ninja attack at the dragon picnic* or *sudden and unexpected explosion of nearby Bourbon biscuit factory uncovers the missing UFO landing site* to move your plot on.  Your characters actions, their agenda, their beliefs; these should have a direct impact on where your story is going.  Your character shouldn’t sit around waiting for their Hogwarts acceptance letter, or for someone in a Panama hat to invite them to a secret island full of dinosaurs; they should get out there and start doing stuff.  Don’t sit at home waiting for Mordor to come to you, get off your freaking butt and go to Mordor (and take a pointy stick to poke Sauron in his all-seeing eye).

Your character has to develop.

Notice I don’t say grow.  Grow suggests they develop in the good way, and that doesn’t always have to be the case.  Maybe they do end up growing out of one of their flaws, think Lizzy and Darcy overcoming their prejudice and pride.  But maybe they are just growing up, or growing into their powers, like Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching.  Your characters could also transform in a scarier way, like Light Yagami in Death Note, spiralling out of any moral limitations.  Characters aren’t like the Simpsons, they don’t learn a big lesson and forget it all by the next episode.  They constantly rebuild themselves as events and actions progress.  They learn, they win, they fail, and they change.

So which characters have you most cared about in fiction?  And what made you care about them so much?

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