Think about your favorite books for a moment. No doubt you can gush about the exciting story you couldn’t put down. But would it be possible to gush about that story without mesmerizing, brilliant characters?
Plot and character go hand-in-hand. And while an amazing, soundly constructed plot will take you far, plots tend to be repeated in many stories. Characters fall from grace, characters become heroes, characters are redeemed, etc. The circumstances of these plots change, yes. But what’s more important? The characters themselves. As a result, in order to keep readers invested, we must create characters readers care about. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Create Empathy
The single most important way to make your characters beloved to your readers is to use the gift of empathy. Readers who empathize with your characters will literally put themselves in your characters’ shoes. They will cry when sad things happen to your characters. They will be happy when wonderful things occur. Why?
Because they feel what happens to the characters for themselves. Empathy allows them to experience true emotions and that creates connection. Connection helps readers truly love or hate things in the world they’re immersed in. How can you help this sense of empathy happen?
Make your characters vulnerable. Give them disadvantages. Make them underdogs. Make them idealists in moral convictions that matter. In short, give the readers characters they can root for.
2. Use Emotion to Your Advantage
In order to help your readers root for characters, one of the best things you can do is give them a view of your character’s emotional world. Often, this can be accomplished by using deep point of view. Peeling back the layers of your character’s emotional interiors is a cycle: a character experiences an event, then they react, then they think about their reaction or the event, and in all of this…emotion.
The character’s reaction of the event displays emotion. The character’s thoughts about the reactions or the event displays emotions. The more the reader understands the character’s emotions and thoughts, the more they begin to feel as well.
3. Strengthen Your Cast of Characters
While writing an empathetic and interesting protagonist is of utmost importance, your protagonist needs to be surrounded by a strong cast. In a romance novel, for example, the lovers both have to be appealing to your readers. A captivating hero or heroine in a thriller should have a formidable foe.
Without this strong cast of characters, your protagonist will lack a much needed context to their better qualities. Think about it from this perspective: if Sherlock Holmes didn’t have someone like Moriarty to outwit him, wouldn’t his intellect seem a bit dull after a while? Elizabeth Bennett needs Darcy’s pride and prejudice to outdo her own.
The richer you make the characters around your protagonist, the stronger and more interesting you make their foes, the more interesting you make their story. Here’s more on writing a strong supporting cast: The Supporting Cast.
Remember: the more your reader cares about your characters, the more they’ll be invested.