Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where you absolutely despise one of the characters? What about the hero you just can’t bear to see lose or the underdog who’s backstory is so gut-wrenching that even if they committed murder you’d still love them?
Sure you have. We all have. But why? What makes those characters resonate with us?
A relatable, emotional connection was established by the writers and filmmakers. They were able to get you to invest yourself and stake claim in the character. And if this is done well, they will also get you to connect qualities from a character with someone in your world. It might be your mother or the dog you and your BFF used to dress up in dog clothes. Or maybe the babysitter you had when you were twelve. You might even see a bit of yourself. The possibilities are endless.
Uniqueness, an element that makes the character stand apart from others, was surely also used. Take Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice. Her unique quality was her confidence and dogged opinions, which was only strengthened by the world she lived in where it was not popular to be an outspoken woman. A unique quality doesn’t have to be different in itself, just different to the other characters in your story.
Characters who make a story work are believable, flawed, and on some level emotionally jaded. Now, emotional jaded could be as simple as a character having a spider fall on her head as a young child while sleeping in a camp and developing a terrifying fear of the Arachnid. (Not that I ever experienced such an event.) Or it could travel the extremes of depression or anguish over a death, accident, or other traumatic and personal event.
The trick is to make the reader believe said character is haunted by his/her past, present, and possible future ~ whichever of these apply to your story.
How is that accomplished? Before you begin meshing the lives of your characters together in their here and now, give them – at varying degrees:
- A PAST worth telling and exploring. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries here. But remember, this past should help motivate the character forward in their current story world. It should help force a change.
- A FAÇADE worthy of description, both inwardly and outwardly. Paint a picture for the reader, but do it gradually throughout a few chapters. Nibbles always make the eater hungrier. Give them a meal, and they fill up quickly.
- A CHARACTERISTIC different from any other character in your story. It can be subtle or in-your-face. Play with it. Honestly, this is one of my favorite things to do, while I write.
- A CONFLICT that will NOT be cured within the pages of this particular story. It could be a Doritos fetish from one character that totally aggravates another character. Kind of silly, but workable, and it can add flavor to scenes.
Obviously most of this should be concentrated on your main characters, but developing secondary characters even a little can add depth to your main characters that you can use and bounce off of. And who knows, if you accomplish success with this first story you just might be asked to do a sequel. You’d have surface material on the secondary characters that you could develop more deeply.
So tip your characters’ wigs now and again. Change the color. Give them a hat of a different texture, unexpected. Make me want them to succeed or fail. If you accomplish this, either way, you’re story will be remembered. (Repost from my guest post on Misha's site. 05/12)
Hoped you enjoyed this Featherbrained Friday post! What do you have to add about the emotional connection between reader and character?