Writing Characters Readers Will Care About
Guest post by KJ Wolf
My youngest teenager recently told me that I’m her favorite cartoon character. This is on the heels of her also informing me that I’m like living with a Saturday Night Live skit. Apparently, in her eyes I’m quite a character.
I had no idea.
Characters are my favorite part of fiction. Write great characters and you’ve got me. Sure, if the rest of the book isn’t all that great and could use some serious editing or rewriting, I’ll skim and skip to the dialogue. But I can’t put it down otherwise.
Why? Because I’m already emotionally invested in the characters.
My daughter sees me as a lovable character. I make her happy. She laughs at and with me. We love each other dearly. There’s an attachment that will always keep us bonded. She’ll never want to stop “reading” me. We’re entangled in through our feelings.
I come from a long line of characters. My grandmother, a favorite of mine on my blog, is a great example. She’s got that tiny, white-haired woman with a gentle nature about her that draws people in. What you don’t expect is her quick wit.
One of my favorite stories about her is when we were playing cards with a bunch of family and the discussion settled on health care. The conversation got a bit tense until my grandmother, who was 87 at the time, said, “I don’t care what they do as long as they cover my birth control.”
No one could talk because we were laughing so hard. She’s the kind of woman people are drawn to because of her lovely disposition but the more you get to know about her, you realize she’s sharp, dynamic and quite funny.
Characters come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Remember Wilson from Cast Away? Tom Hanks’s stranded character became so dependent on that volleyball, I doubt there was a dry eye in any movie theater across the country when it floated away.
The interaction, companionship and dependency between the main character and that volleyball are all basic human experiences we can relate to in any form. Tom Hanks was desperate on that island. Wilson became a crucial character through tangible need. We were goners for Wilson before we even knew what was happening.
As writers, we need to do the same things with our characters to connect with readers. Create a relatable situation or emotion with your hero or heroine.
The world provides more than enough situations that writers can use to connect with readers. Think about how you feel when you’re having a hard time making ends meet. Are you stressed? Worried? Angry? Desperate?
Maybe you’re in love with someone but you don’t know if they feel the same way about you. Are you terrified? Curious? Resigned to live in the shadows even if they are with someone else?
Every single human being can relate to these emotions. Tapping into a reader’s feelings makes all the difference when you create your characters and bring them to life.
So what’s my point? When you write, be a character. Look inside your leading lady and/or man to find the likable, relatable qualities that would make a reader care. Then bring them to life.
If you have trouble with your characters, look no further than the people around you. You see them completely different than they see themselves. Compile a list of what you love about them as well as their challenges. Once you’re done, you’ve got a number of recipes for any character you want.
I’m a character. You’re a character. We’re all characters. We spend our lives trying to be characters at least a few people will like.
As a writer, you get to orchestrate this entire process. Become an observer. Listen. Watch. Learn. Pull those puppet strings and create the character that will connect with many hearts.
K.J. Wolf lives in upstate N.Y. with her husband, two children and too many pets to count. When she’s not playing matchmaker in her romance and erotica stories, she loves spending time with loved ones, reading, hiking and cooking. Eating is just a given.