How to make Your Reader Care About Your Character #1

I was cleaning off my desk this weekend and I came across a handout from a seminar or class that I don’t even remember taking.  I read through the page and considered my current work in progress.  I’m pretty sure that by this time in my career I am doing what the handout recommends as an almost instinctual part of my writing process.

I almost tossed the paper, but thought there may be some people out there who could benefit from these notes.  And, of course, I tend to learn stuff myself when I write out and analyze notes for posts, so let’s see what happens.

To keep things  short, I will break this topic into 5 separate posts.  One thought to chew on at a time.

Disclaimer:  I honestly don’t remember where this handout came from. I’m going to paraphrase the topic and think up my own ideas, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m stealing without giving credit.

All right:  Creating a character people care about:

It should be a given to an author that they need to create characters that their readers will care about. They do not necessarily have to like the character. Some really great characters are very unlikable. But we need to CARE about them, or we won’t keep reading. Right?

So how do we do this?

1.       Relationships.  Everyone in the world has relationships. They can be good, bad, or just tolerable, but you know what a relationship is, and so does your reader. Seeing a character in a relationship is an easy way to help a reader connect.

Let’s think over some memorable relationships.  I’ll grab a character most people know.

Harry Potter.

Harry lives with his aunt and uncle. Wow, they do not treat him well, do they? Have you ever been treated unfairly? Have you every had to put up with it because you had no choice? Have you ever wished a magic letter would show up and scoot you away? (Well, I’m sure the answer is “yes” to most of what I said, anyway.)

Giving Harry this horrible home life helps us to INSTANTLY connect with him. We feel sorry for him and want him to live up to his potential.  If Harry can overcome the odds, maybe we can, too.

Do you see how quickly and easily the connection is made? In the first few scenes we totally care and we are engaged.

Relationships. Use them.

And if your character is stranded on a deserted island, have him draw a face on a ball so he has someone to talk to. Yes, that has been done, but that helped you to connect as well, right?
Relationships are one of the easiest ways to help your readers care about your characters.

How have you used relationships to develop your characters?



17 responses to “How to make Your Reader Care About Your Character #1

  1. Great post, Jennifer and your face on a ball comment made me laugh out loud. (Wilson!!!!). I realize with my first novel that is what was lacking about my main character. I threw her into this fantasy adventure and really knew my side characters but never knew my main character well enough to make my readers care about her. This is a great tip to make the reader care.

  2. Relationships are at the root of my rebuild of one of my manuscripts. Ultimately, I couldn’t get the relationship right between two of the main characters, no matter what I did, even though the overall story line was getting good feedback from my betas. Friends with benefits? No tension, then, when another man shows up to grab the female lead’s attention. A real relationship? There was no way readers would believe she would give up the good for what might be a fling. The solution? She had me remove the romantic partner and replace him with her brother. Does it mean a heck of a lot of rewriting? Absolutely. But will the relationship between siblings work better for the story and not distract readers? You bet. 🙂

  3. One way to put this into action is to have your character in a conversation. Because people are inherently social, conversations fascinate us. Who’s trying to get something from the other? Who has power in this relationship? Does the dynamic shift during the conversation? As a writer, you can pack an awful lot of information into a conversation, whether that means little character quirks, or clues to a mystery, or some other plot point.

  4. Something I have on one of my burners:
    No-one pays attention to Jack, a long-time hermit, until a lonely widower pursues an unlikely friendship. Jack discourages the intrusions at first. Over time he welcomes them but won’t admit it.

  5. Relationships are key, and so is the conflict in them. If everyone is just giggling and having fun and doing their hair and make-up, and mom approves of everything, and they go to school and everyone likes them . . . then there’s nothing that will interest me.

  6. I think this is one of the things I did right in the ghost novel – the relationship between Aaron and Sam. Sam helps Aaron grow and develop a deep friendship that he didnt have before – one that challenged him. Looking forward to the rest of this series.

  7. IntrovertedSarah

    I think this might be where I am going wrong with a troublesome character. She has no relatable experiences.
    Great post, thank you very much.