Have you ever read a book that conveys an interesting concept but the story didn’t keep you invested to the end? Or a story where the cause was seemingly really important but you found yourself not really caring if they won or lost?
It’s most likely because the story was too focused on the concept or cause, and not on the character. In other words, we cannot care what happens to a character’s world, until we care about the characters who live in it.
Example: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Would we care about bringing down the wicked Capital without knowing the intimate details of Katniss and Peeta?
Example: Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Would we care who wins the Trials or who the next Emperor is if it wasn’t directly tied to Laia and Elias fate and freedom?
Example: Star Wars: Would we care who the First Order is or the rebel cause that will beat them if we weren’t already intimately connected to the Jedi (and the Force) through Luke, Leia, and Han Solo? (and now, Ray?)
Look at the picture I chose for the post. Are you drawn to the flowers on the girl or girl with the flowers on her body? If I removed the girl and just posted the flowers, would it be as interesting or beautiful? No. Because while flowers are beautiful and causes are important, they are never more important than people.
Readers are people, and people connect with people, not causes. We will never win a reader if our story is not driven by our characters. A cause, no matter how important, (i.e., the evil dictatorship within your world that threatens to tear apart society,) or a concept, no matter how interesting, (i.e. think the concepts of The Giver,) cannot wrestle their way into our hearts like people can.
Well written characters draw us into the midst of their story. They confide in us intimate details whether emotional or relational. They reveal a part of themselves to us that we can sympathize with, and relate to. We begin to share their motivations, feel their pain, their fear, and their desires, then all of sudden, and we may not even know when it started, we care about what they care about, we worry about them, their cause becomes our cause. And we desperately root for them.
Think about your novel. Are you struggling to get readers care about your story? Is there a cause, like the Dark Side versus the Light, the Resistance versus the First Order you want them to root for? Or a theme you’d love for readers to walk away with? A concept behind the story you want them to understand? Then rethink your characters.
Go back to the golden rule of “show, don’t tell.” Show us how your character is directly affected by the cause. Why is it important to her? What will happen to he fails? What will she/he gain? Lose? Is she the one who can do something about it? (It better be, or we won’t keep reading. Think about Ray in Star Wars The Force Awakens, take her out of the story and where would you be?) How does my character embody this cause, or theme, or concept? Is she proactive or reactive? What makes this character real to us? What is it about her that we like? Why do we sympathize with her? What flaws does she have? Her fears? Her desires? Is my character directly involved and tied to the cause in your story?
Nova signing off!
photo credit: corriemahrphotography.com