I am skimming over notes I took from a class about creating characters that your reader will care about.
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.
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. (See previous post)
2. Give them a goal (See previous post)
3. Caring about others
Even the most horrible person on the planet has to care about someone, right?
Well, maybe not the most horrible person on the planet. I suppose you could create a noteworthy character who does not care about others, but the more I think of it, even the greatest villains of all time cared about something.
A villain can be a big softie
The guy in Psycho was pretty twisted, but that was okay, because he really loved his grandma. The Dude in Despicable Me wanted to be the greatest villain of all time, but these kids that he cared about kept getting in the way.
I think the idea is that in most cases everyone cares about someone. It may be trivial, or it may be gruesome, like keeping your beloved dead grandma… but it is that “care factor” that a reader can relate to.
Taking the easy way out
The handout talks about easier versions of caring, like taking care of a baby or helping an old lady cross the street. So, if your character is a nice person, just make sure we can see them doing something that shows that they care for others. They will get brownie points from your readers for their trouble.
In Jay Lake’s Mainspring, which I recently read, the main character believes in duty and that he has a mission from God to save the world. But what he cares about is a friend he makes along the way. As Carrie suggests, your character can begin caring as part of their plot arc.
I just finished reading The Last Runaway, a historical novel about a young English Quaker woman transplanted to the US where she’s horrified by the practice of slavery. The slave hunter in her area is the mean antagonist, though around her, he softens and becomes almost likable. By making him amend some of his ways around the main character given his soft spot for her, the author gives him a more human side, making the reader care more about him than he/she would otherwise.