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.
One 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.
- New year, new projects
- Big Day for Big D Book Lovers