Wednesday, August 21, 2013

5 Ways to Bond Readers and Characters

Happy hump-day, good people of the blogosphere! Today, we'll be talking about ways to get your reader to really give a crap about your character. In reality, that bond is the most important. Forget plot, structure, and tension for a minute and think about your favorite book. What do you remember most? The Journey? The Problems? Or was it a character that made you say, "I want to be like them."? Grab your pens and notebooks and let's get this party started!

Here are five ways to create a tie between your reader and your character without resorting to handcuffs:

1. Likability
I'm sure you've all come across characters you didn't really like very much. Stop and ask yourself why. Were they cruel? Did they have too big of an ego? You want a character who can laugh at themselves. One who is kind or commits random acts of heroism. They need to care more about others than they do about themselves. There is one caveat to this: Power. If you make a character who's vile, give them obscene amounts of power. Above all else, you have to make them interesting enough to hold attention.

2. Inner Conflict
A character who has their mind made up, and one who doesn't struggle in some way, is boring as hell. Yes, this goes back to the doorway of change. Someone who has it all figured out and has no reservations will turn your reader off in a nanosecond. Show the inner conflict of your character, and let them come alive on the page. They'll seem much more real. Check out some of the entries in my Human Nature series of posts. That leads us to...

3. Identification
Here, I'm sure you're saying, "Well, duh, Jo!" But this is something a lot of people miss. Create a human that lives and breathes and your reader will identify with your lead. When we read about people that we can visualize, we tend to care about them. I've talked before about creating perfect characters and why it's never a good idea. Make your reader love the character (for all their flaws). This means...

4. Create Sympathy
There are four ways to do this:
  • Give your character hardship. Some kind of hurdle in their life that wasn't self-imposed. If you make it so the character put themselves in that situation, they'll come off as whiny.
  • Put them in jeopardy. Trouble is coming and there's no way out of it (or so it seems). Emotional jeopardy is just as heart-rendering as physical.
  • Show their vulnerable side. If your lead could lose at any moment, your reader will care. Make them nervous for the protagonist and you'll win.
  • Create an underdog. This is the long-shot. Know that horse who was slated to come in last in every race because of a prior hoof injury? What if it wins against all odds? There, you have your underdog. It's the same with characters that are humans.
5. The World and the Rules
Show the reader what life is like for the character. A character could be working or playing, but use this to create a bond and show the rules of their world. Perhaps a humorous mayor or a tough aristocracy is what your world will have. Portray the character in their setting and make one of the rules something they don't like or feel strongly about. It will help it feel like a reality to the reader. They'll inevitably compare it to their own if they believe it; and, bam! you have that special link.

Think about this post from last year: Writers that Cannot Feel, Cannot Write and ask yourself why that holds true. It's the same for readers. They have to feel something when they read your story.

Which of your characters do you love the most? Why?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. I've read so many books lately where I find next to nothing redeemable about the characters and it ruins the read for me. Making a character sympathetic if he or she isn't likable is a must.

    1. I hate unlikable characters. They drive me batty. I feel ya. :) Thanks for the comment, Heather!


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