Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Compelling characters

There are so many different things we have to worry about in our writing.  Plot.  Structure.  Pacing.  Word choice.  Slaughter of innocent adverbs.

The list goes on and on.

I wonder if sometimes books get pushed through with very little thought to whether the characters are ones we can actually care about.

I'm not naming names or anything and I'm sure that every author does worry about it at some point.

For me, the story can be there and whatever, but if I can't care about the characters, I'm done.  If I don't care about the characters, I don't care about what happens to them.

Case in point, last week's episode of the CBS television show NCIS: LA.  Skip the next paragraph if you don't want any spoilers.

Earlier in the season, one character got abducted.  There were no answers to who took him or why they did.  Over the course of a few episodes, most of which held nothing more than a passing mention of the character's name (if that).  They didn't deal with anything about him beyond the first episode where he got taken and then last week's.  Last week they found him.  But then he got killed.  And let me tell you, I couldn't care less.  I never missed him, I didn't care about him, etc.

Here's the reason: Lack of interaction.  He'd only been around for a handful of episodes when he was abducted.  And he was just a side note character.  There was no reason for me to care or worry about where he was.

Do we try too hard to make readers care about our characters, even the characters who only show up in one chapter only to be heard from again at the climax?

What makes you care about a character?  Sound off in the comments.


  1. That's a great point! A reader has to be able to connect to the characters and, as writers, it's our job to make them care. I was reading one of Sol Stein's books this morning in which he suggested analyzing your novel scene by scene for what your readers feel. So here's the follow-on question: what makes you, as a reader, care about the character? What does the writer have to do to make you care?

  2. Great post! I tend to connect with characters who have plenty of obstacles and troublesome pasts. They are easier to relate too because they aren't so perfect and polished. I'm not perfect and polished so very rarely do I want to read a story that has someone in there like that, and if they are I hope they have a sarcasm quality because that's the only thing that would keep me intrigued!

  3. It is crucial to make your readers care about your characters. I'm a firm believer in that. There is no small character. Each one must count.

  4. Great post. You're right, this is crucial. I think the character has to be someone we like & sympathetic in what problems they face. Also they can't be perfect. They have to have a weakness they struggle with like the rest of us.

  5. yes jen Great post! I tend to connect with characters who have plenty of obstacles and troublesome pasts.
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