We all do it. We pick up a book hoping to be sucked into their world. We want to escape, to be free, and above all to live a life not our own. We root for characters; we fight when they fight, laugh when they laugh and mourn when they mourn. Characters awaken a long dormant part of us, whether we love to love them or love to hate them. Good characters make us think, excellent characters make us feel.
So as an author, how do we strike that delicate balance? How do we make our readers believe while suspending their belief? How do we make them salivate over our characters?
You must ensure that your reader cares about your character from the moment they meet. This is a mistake that many authors make. We spend a lot of time trying to place our readers in the scene and immersing them in the world, that we forget the most important element is the character themselves. I venture to say, readers would be more forgiving of a badly fleshed out world, than badly fleshed out character, whom they care nothing about.
Think about this. Have you ever watched those old vintage CGI films? I’m talking the real old stuff like Godzilla, King Kong and the like. The CGI was horrible, but the characterizations were on point! The actors made you believe these things were happening and you watched just to find out what happened to them! It’s the same concept.
How to Do It:
Human emotion is a powerful thing. You must learn to manipulate it in your story. Play on your reader’s fear. Make them fear for the character’s safety, give them a mutual disdain for the character’s enemy, thrust your character in an awkward situation and make your reader cringe or make them laugh at the MC’s antics. Something, anything to illicit an emotional reaction from your reader.
This is a surefire way to make them care. Even if they don’t want to!
Every character should have an arc. In other words, their growth. Characters grow and mature through their journey through tests and tribulations. They undergo a proverbial metamorphosis. Perhaps, they go from being arrogant and warmongering to humble and pacifistic. Many audiences love cheering for the underdog and watching as the MC goes through various trials to conquer insurmountable odds.
How to Do It
Subtly. Grandiose isn’t always the best route to take. If your character is a whiny cry baby on page one and a take charge total bad ass on page ten, something is wrong (unless it was subterfuge of course). The point is, people do not change overnight; it is a gradual process.
Also, bear in mind, that just because a person isn’t exactly stringent on some of their long held beliefs anymore, doesn’t mean they are completely cleansed of them. For example, a person who has always been arrogant, may no longer treat others as inferior, but will most likely, never be completely approachable or warm toward others. They may be a bit more reserved or revert to their natural tendencies every once in a while. Be mindful of this and your arcs will be more realistic!
As mentioned earlier, the character must face odds that seem insurmountable at the time. The hero’s journey is every bit a part of the story as the hero is. Who are the allies and foes they meet along the way? The journey is important because it shapes the character and informs who they are at the moment.
How to Do It:
Consider your genre. Most genres have standard developmental passages for characters. For example, fantasy and Sci-Fi tends to have epic quests and so forth. Yours does not need to be so grand. As long as you ensure sufficient trials through which your characters may persevere.
Show their steady track toward change, then, at least three to five road blocks, followed by a breaking point. The breaking point is important because, just as the MC is about to become a whole new person, BOOM! Something happens that will threaten all the progress they made thus far.
Nothing is as gripping as watching a character grow and then all the hard work seems to go down the drain. The pins and needles you’re on as you watch and wonder if they’ll ever go back on the straight and narrow is…phenomenal! Its worth it! So worth it!
What do you guys think? Are these the not the absolute essentials to a character we salivate over? Can you think of anything else? Drop me a line in the comment section below and let’s get the discussion started! Genesys Out!