Thursday, September 6, 2012

Make Your Reader Root For Your Main Character

This possible series will expand upon this post, where I had slapped down some ideas to consider in regards to hitting your reader in the gut.

Number one reads like this:
  1. Make your reader root for your main character(s). Make your character stretch out their arm toward their goal, as far as they can to reach, until their fingertips barely brush it. Make your character want something so much that your reader wants it, too.
Now, this is a lot to unload, but easy to grasp. First of all, if you’re having trouble getting your character motivated to make the steps forward that you need in order to continue as you’ve planned, then this might be one of your problems: your character is without a goal.

That’s not good, but relatively an easy fix.

First of all, your character’s goal should tie into the plot. If you’re the type of writer that creates a plot before the character, be sure that you weave your character and your plot together. This is what will create your premise. Think of the little passages that you read on the back covers of paperbacks, or the inside flap of a dustcover. This is the premise. The premise asks the big question of “What will happen when…?”

If you’re the type of writer that creates the characters and then the plot, your duty is still the same. You’ve got to give your character a desire—a driving force—that propels them headfirst into your plot (or feet-first, depending on what you’re into, you know). This desire can be anything, whether it’s as commercial as wanting to find the right guy from a dating website, or atypical like a man who desires intimacy with a young girl. The desire doesn’t have to be positive, and it doesn’t have to be negative, but it nevertheless must drive your character.

So, once you’ve got your premise and burning coals under your character’s bare feet, how do you make the reader care?

Let’s start with this:
A girl is put in a frozen sleep with her parents to take a ship three-hundred years to another planet?
Well, okay.
A girl who is conscious throughout the entire sleep and is accidentally awoken fifty years too early while her parents are still frozen?
I’m not much of a ships-in-space sci-fi type of reader, but I picked this up and burned right through it because I was sucked in by the human element.

In the early years of Superman and Captain America, people wanted a superhero. Times were bad. War was in the air. People were looking for something, well, super. Nowadays, people want super characters—that are relatable. This is especially crucial in YA (young adult)/teen fiction. We like a character that we can identify with, and this doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to see ourselves in these characters, but we need to be able to connect with them. We need to understand where they’re coming from, whether protagonist or antagonist.

How do you do this?

My favorite way: through suffering.

If you have a villain as a main character, your readership can find themselves rooting for this individual if you give meaning to what they’re doing—if you show that they’ve struggled to get where they are, or are continuing to struggle.

A reader is drawn in by a person who has suffered, but continues to fight for their desire. We want to see people succeed. When someone stands up in front of class to give a speech, we want them to do well, especially if their quivering hands or timid voice reveal they’re scared shitless. We as the audience send them stronger vibes, perhaps smile bigger, or relax our postures to be more open, or laugh a little louder when they attempt self-deprecating humor.

(Am I recalling some sort of traumatic moment in front of class or something?)

We’ve all been there, after all, so we can associate with this fear of failure. We connect with the struggle to succeed. We want people to succeed.

So, whatever your character wants, regardless if they’re the good guy or bad guy or neither of the two, make them work for it. Throw obstacles in their way, force them to struggle, reveal how much they need this ultimate goal, whether they’re aware of their need or not, whether it’s a tangible thing or a fractured idea.

If they fall, make it hurt. If they get back up, make it hurt more. It’s in these moments that your character transcends the page and becomes a real person.

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