I’ve always been drawn to the characters in a story more than to the setting or genre or even the plot. The people are what matter to me the most, and it’s something I try to impart in everything I write – regardless of whether it’s a horror novel or a holiday movie.
An emotional connection, built on empathy and understanding, between your reader and your characters, is a surefire way to help your readers identify with those characters and grow to love them (or love to hate them)!
But, how do we create that emotional connection between the reader and the characters in your story?
During a recent conversation with Erika Knudsen on the All Outta Bubblegum Radio Show, we discussed this question. The following are our best tips for how to help make your readers fall in love with your fictional characters!
As a writer, one of the best compliments I can get is when somebody tells me that they felt genuine emotion for a person who is literally a figment of my imagination!Neil Chase
How Can I Make My Readers Fall In Love With My Story Characters?
1. Make your characters as human and three-dimensional as possible.
Don’t be afraid to explore your character’s humanity, and try to realize them as fully-fleshed out and “real” people. Give them flaws and weaknesses, fears and phobias, in order to have some aspect of themselves they need to overcome or conquer.
But, don’t just focus on the negative traits. Show us their hopes and dreams as well, so that they have something to aspire to – a goal worth pursuing!
2. Ensure you evoke strong and authentic emotions in your reader.
Erika tells a story of how her favorite compliment as an author is when readers tell her “you made me cry” – the emotion of the characters has come through to the reader, and they are feeling it as though it were a real emotion in themselves.
This empathy for characters is powerful, and regardless of the emotion you try to elicit – sadness, joy, anger, fear, triumph – is something to strive for with your readers by being true to your characters.
3. Write to please yourself.
Write your story and characters as though you are your own perfect target audience. You may be surprised when others (even those who are not like you) love them too!
By being true to yourself (as well as to your characters), you will resonate more with the story and the world you’ve created. And if you think of yourself as one small subset of a larger target demographic, then there are bound to be others who will enjoy the work as much as you do.
Just remember, it’s not all sunshine and roses – if you write to please yourself, then you must be honest enough with yourself to critique and criticize your work until you are genuinely happy with the end result.
4. Do justice to your characters.
It is difficult to take the perspective of a character who is not similar to yourself in some way. It may be that they are of a different gender, race, ethnicity, political viewpoint, or even just someone with very different interests or tastes.
It’s always a good idea to learn as much as you can about who the character might be thanks to all those factors, so you are able, in as much as you can, to put yourself in their shoes. A little (or a lot) of research goes a long way, especially when dealing with professions or cultures you do not understand.
Even so, it’s not possible to truly understand some of the above viewpoints based on physical, cultural, or psychological limitations of not belonging to that particular group. It is always a good idea to ask a trusted friend or colleague who may belong to that gender, race, orientation, etc., to read your written work and give honest feedback.
Take their notes seriously and respectfully, for they live that which you are trying to imagine or emulate.
And if you feel as though you cannot do justice to a specific group based on your own limitations, then you may reconsider either rewriting that character to one that more comfortably suits your voice or bringing in a writer belonging to that group to assist you in creating a character that they feel is more accurately representative.
Whatever you do, however, don’t be lazy and simply rely on assumptions, preconceived notions, stereotypes or tropes. It’s disrespectful, potentially offensive, and can be a disservice to both your story and your audience.
5. Don’t just focus on your good guys – make sure to create believable and real bad guys too!
Often, the villains of a story are one-dimensional, and they lack real human characteristics and emotions. You can create a better villain by giving them flaws, backstories, and even positive traits to create a more well-rounded character.
Like your heroes, strive to make them more human, and in doing so, make them more relatable. We may not like what a villain does, but they are far more powerful as characters when we can understand why they make the choices they do.
And as the old adage goes – your hero is only as good as your villain. So give us great villains!
6. Remember that readers often relate most to your secondary characters!
Erika relates that she has been surprised when her readers sometimes like the smaller or supporting characters in her novels the best! Your supporting characters aren’t there just to make the hero look good.
Each supporting character should serve a specific purpose, whether to assist the protagonist on their journey, stand in their way, or be a love interest, or a friend or rival. But they should also have their own journey to follow.
Remember, every character should feel they are the hero of their own story, even if they aren’t significant to your main story. So, try to pay just as much attention to your smaller characters and their thoughts, feelings, and personalities, as you do for your main characters. They might just surprise you!
7. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.
If it serves your story, don’t be afraid to kill off a character you or your audience loves. There is so much emotion and weight caught up in a character death of this kind, and the audience loves to have a good cry now and again.
People want to connect with your characters and their victories as much as their failures and tragedies. They want to feel and share the emotions of the characters in your story, and sometimes there is no better way to do so than through the loss of a character.
Just remember to do this only if it serves the story and creates a more compelling narrative and more complex character arcs for the other characters who are affected by the loss.
Final Thoughts on Helping Readers Fall In Love with Your Fictional Characters
In conclusion, don’t be afraid to take risks with your characters, including your protagonists and antagonists. Experiment, try new things, and take them to places they’ve never been (or places you’ve never considered taking them before), even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.
Make your characters complex and full of as many failings and doubts as skills and certainties. Let them fail and at times, let them go so that we will cry over their defeats as much as revel in their victories.
The more human you make them, the more real they become and the stronger the bond between your story and your audience. It might mean more work on your part, but I guarantee it will be worth it!
All Outta Bubblegum Radio Show #7 with Erika Knudsen
Listen to the show at: All Outta Bubblegum on Sound Sugar Radio – Episode 7
On today’s show I was joined by Erika Knudsen. Hailing from Spruce Grove where she lives with her husband and daughter, Erika Knudsen is a novelist, short story author and screenwriter, with five novels under her belt.
All of her novels fall under the umbrella of the Azamate Chronicles Vampire Saga – a genre-bending world of vampires, romance and the paranormal. Expanding her brand, her newest release is a combination of two novellas called Fallen, a paranormal erotic-romance.
Selected Links from the Episode
Bonus: A Vampire Author’s Favorite Vampire Movies – Erika’s Top 5!
The Lost Boys
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Queen of the Damned
I am Legend
Interview with the Vampire
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