Writing a story is like reading the best ever choose your own adventure book. Anything you’ve ever thought was cool or ever wanted to try, your characters can experience. But with writing comes great responsibility.
I often joke that when I get to the end of a movie, if the writers haven’t convinced me that I care whether the main characters live or die, they haven’t done their jobs.
As a writer you bring characters from your head into the physical world, in the form of words. These “people” have “lives” and “importance” to those around them. For many of these “people” you may be the only real person who cares about them – or even knows about them. As you write your story, your critique partner might care, too, if you’re doing it right.
Does the main character get the love interest? Is there a plague of locusts? Does the planet explode?
When your final revisions are done, have you managed to convince readers that they care, too?
Because that’s what fiction writing is all about, isn’t it? It’s about whether or not you can get the reader to be emotionally invested in characters born of your imagination. It’s about whether your characters take up residence in your reader’s head, or are quickly forgotten when the story is done.
Writers have many different ideas about what gets a reader attached. Connecting with a fictional character shares many commonalities with connecting with people in real life. There are many things that can help make a reader care about your characters. This is by no means an exhaustive list:
Realism: Personally, I have a hard time making friends in the real world with someone who acts like they’re perfect. If your characters have no flaws, it makes it hard for intelligent readers to relate to them. Is your character someone that people find believable? Even if you put them through hell, do they retain their humanity and vulnerability?
Humor: I have trouble getting close to people that don’t make me laugh at least sometimes. Does your character have a sense of humor? They’ll be more interesting if they do and will be easier to relate to.
Challenges: Having a reason to root for someone often makes people feel more attached – although drama queens can be annoying. Do your characters have things to overcome during the story? Do they suffer? Challenges also give your characters an opportunity to have their sparkling personalities shine through.
Emotion: Becoming close to someone who you don’t connect with on an emotional level is unlikely. Is the character someone readers can relate to? Without complex emotion your characters won’t have life to your reader. The emotional development of your characters is essential to ensure your story isn’t just a recitation of imaginary chronological events. “And then... and then... and then...” only goes so far.
As a writer, you’re the only person who stands between your characters and complete oblivion. They just want people to care about them. It’s a big responsibility. Make good choices.