Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.You know what turns me off of most fiction faster than anything else?
- “Improper grammar!”
- “Didn’t do the research!”
- “Summary says ‘first story/wrote while drunk lolol!’”
I’m not talking about characters that make bad choices, per se. Life is meant to be a delightful romp through embarrassment, screwing up, intense highs, depressing lows, and bad decisions. I’m talking about characters that can either Do No Right or Do No Wrong.
You must give the audience at least one character that they can celebrate. Imagine your best friend for a minute. Hopefully, if your best friend gets promoted at work, you celebrate that: you take them out for a drink, or give them a high-five, text them a “GO YOU!” message, or even send them a congratulatory gift. At least, I’d hope that’s what you’d do. If not, we need to talk about how you’re treating your best friend.
Anyway, that’s what I’m talking about. People like books that contain characters they can cheer for. If you’re writing and people are wanting your character to go drown in a ditch when they should be encouraging that character...you’re doing something wrong.
Some tips to avoid this:
- Don’t make your characters too perfect.
A character that is too perfect is called a Mary Sue. They always make the right decision, they can handle any problem tossed at them without flickering an eyelash, they’re the life of the party, the heart, the soul, the lodestone for those around them, the perfect leader, so and so forth. Congratulations. I’ve wandered off to go read Harry Dresden screw up some more and ride a huge T-Rex skeleton around.
- Don’t make your characters too hopeless.
I’m all for underdog stories, but when the odds are TOO high for too long, then I’m starting to wonder what the point is. Also, I’m back to Dresden again. Did I mention the T-Rex’s name is Sue?
- Redeeming qualities
Your character doesn’t have to have many or even more than a handful. But these are the best ways to garner sympathy for your characters rather than “She’s a witch! Burn her! Burn her!” Maybe your character is a bitch, but she’s funny and she genuinely feels bad when she’s a bitch to the wrong person. Maybe your character’s a thief, but he only takes from the affluent who won’t miss it. That sort of thing.
I guess the best way to sum this up is to look at Season 1 and 2 of Chuck and specifically the Sarah Walker character. I think with a less talented actress in the role, Chuck probably wouldn't have made it past the writer's strike. Even when her actions were reprehensible (shooting a man in cold blood, anyone?), we found something to root for in the Sarah Walker character. Whether it was because we admired her vulnerability, her kickassery, or even just her wardrobe, we wanted good things for her. When she hurt, we hurt.
And that really, really enhanced our experience, didn't it?
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