Caring about Characters - Shawna Seed

Caring about Characters

What makes a reader care about a character?

I visited a book club the other night that read Identity, which gave me the opportunity to hear the members’ reactions to the characters. Book clubs are fascinating (and a little terrifying) for authors, but the insight is unbelievably rewarding.

identity-novel-medOne reader spoke movingly about her concern for the protagonist, Sharlah Webb, who finds herself in desperate straits as the book begins. She reacted to Sharlah’s arc just as I hoped readers would. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but she really grasped the losses in Sharlah’s life.

That feedback makes an author’s night!

What helped forge that connection? I picked up one clue as the reader spoke: She mentioned that she had a daughter the same age as Sharlah.

As I build a character, I know that I’m creating little connection points for readers, giving them a reason to care. Maybe it’s something superficial: story setting, or taste in music or clothes. Perhaps there’s an echo of the reader’s family in a relationship between characters in the book. Did the reader’s boss talk down to her the same way the boss in the book does?

I’m not just a writer, I’m a reader, too, and I’m always puzzling over this process in reverse.

Recently, I began a book that I just couldn’t get into. The pacing was great. I was intrigued by the plot. But whenever I put it down, I just didn’t feel compelled to pick it back up.

Why couldn’t I invest in this book? Why didn’t I care what happened to … well, what was the lead character’s name, anyway?


It was a spy novel, and the author chose to keep the protagonist nameless.

I understand that as a literary device. And perhaps the name was revealed later in the book. I’ll never know. For this reader, it created too much distance. I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about the man without a name.


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