Monday, March 25, 2013

What Makes a Reader Like a Character?

Every novelist wants the reader to relate to a character . . . or at least be entertained enough by him to stick with the story. In other words, there's a connection. But what about a character makes him appealing to the reader?

1. Commonality.

The reader sees himself in the character. They think alike, behave similarly, have the same job, have a job the reader wishes he had, lives in the same state, town, country. They hold onto the same dreams. They shared the same trauma. I dare say this trait of commonality draws the most readers to a character, especially a character that repeats throughout a series.

2. Aspiration.

The reader wishes he were that character. He wishes he had similar personality. Or he wishes he had the guts to do the character's profession (i.e., James Bond). Or he wishes he had the education, the financial means, or the ability to travel the world. The reader clicks between his dream and the character's life, or he hopes to pull himself out of his real-life dilemma and become more like the character.

3. Escapism.

The reader has no desire to be the character, but he wants to escape and for a few hours be daring, destitute, creative, romantic, dashing, gorgeous, thin, athletic, intelligent or big-hearted. I love Nevada Barr's novels, but I do not desire to be a park ranger. I enjoyed Stephanie Plum for a while, but never cared to move north to New Jersey. I've been reading a new series by Glen Allison, the protagonist named Al Forte, a special forces kind of guy in New Orleans who saves endangered children through his organization, and in the process saves pieces of himself.  I'll never move to New Orleans, and I've never been in law enforcement, but I love what Forte stands for and what he accomplishes which exposing his soul.

If you're a reader, you know what I mean. That book has to connect in one of these three ways. What the reader doesn't realize is that the author has to paint these personalities, settings, behaviors and events so that the reader is successful connecting to the character. That means good writing so that the reader is swept away, not slogging through writing that still needs work.

If you're a writer, you also know what I mean. Your writing has to be invisible as the reader engages. If he sees your writing, he loses that connection. But...what you should also see here is that you will not connect with every reader. Someone might dislike the South and never want to read my Carolina Slade books, or a reader might be put off by the family life I weave into her world instead of leaving her entrenched solely in the mystery. Someone might dislike her occasional bout of cursing or her evening bourbon.

Bottom line....good writing attracts the most readers. Our characters have to be solid, three-dimensional, and seamless. No trips. No stumbles. No . . . writers won't please everyone, but they want to please as many as possible. It's hard enough matching readers to characters, so don't throw them into half-baked writing that's noisier than the character the reader's trying so hard to relate to.

(NOTE: Tidewater Murder comes out in mid-April for those who love to relate to Carolina Slade.)


Sioux Roslawski said...


Baby number 2. Congratulations. I hope it is a fun. successful delivery. (I'm sure the labor lasted for months and months and months ;)

Hope Clark said...

It was harder! LOL But I think it's a fun book with a new side of Slade, Savvy and Wayne, not to mention the kids. And...a new character.