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Building Characters For Your Novel - How To Get Readers To Care

By Expert Author: Jack Simmons

A great storyline, an engaging plot and the texture of a good theme and some interesting subplots are all important to crafting a novel your readers will enjoy and recommend to their friends. But even if you do all these things your story won't keep people reading if they don't care about your characters. The surest way to the heart and mind of a reader is through the heart and mind of your character. If your readers are going to care about someone's story they have to see that person as a real human being. How can you build characters that are human, three dimensional and whose lives matter to your readers?
1. Who is this person?
Your readers need to know some basic facts in order to carve out a place in their imaginations where your characters live. Think of the opening scenes in your favorite movie. A director will open with scenes that immediately tell the viewer where the story will happen, who the main characters are, what they look like and who they relate to on a daily basis. That can be a stunning image, but it is the director's image, not yours. The wonderful thing about books, as opposed to movies, is that what we read happens in our own imaginations. That puts a responsibility on you as a novelist.You have to paint the picture with words. You have to evoke those images in the readers' minds.
Start with the basics. Is this a female or male? How old are they? Where does he/she live? Is he a product of a small town or a large city? How has that place shaped her personality? When we look at another person, some things make an immediate impression. What is the first thing someone would notice about your character? Think about yourself and the people you know well. As you add details to your characters, you make them recognizable as real people. You begin to build emotional ties between your character and your readers. That is the main reason anyone keeps reading.
2. No man or woman is an island.
It's important to build strong and believable supporting characters, as well. Who are the significant people in your characters' lives? Who do they live with and talk to everyday? As he pursues his goals some people will support his efforts, some will oppose them and present additional obstacles. These relationships help the audience imagine a flesh and blood person, living in the real world. Most importantly, since these relationships exist in all our lives, you've likely struck a chord in the hearts of your audience. You've made it possible for them to step into the lives of your characters.
3. What's going on?
Drama is created when a character overcomes obstacles to reach a goal. As soon as possible, tell your readers about that goal and let them see why this is so important to the character. What personality traits will make it easier for your protagonist to overcome those obstacles? Which ones will get in the way?
Give your character a good backstory. Has something happened in their past that will be the driving force in your story? Have they been a victim of injustice? Have they been betrayed by someone they trusted, or are they grieving a lost loved one? What was their childhood like? How have all of these matters shaped them into the person the reader meets?
4. Life is change.
When your readers buy into a story they're agreeing to go on a journey with the characters. You've told them where your protagonist starts, you've described their voyage by showing the struggles to overcome the obstacles, and now you need to show where the ride ends. How has the character changed? Have they learned anything about themselves or other people? How will accomplishing or failing to accomplish all their objectives affect them? If they've met anyone in the course of the story, what affect have those people had on them? The answers to these questions will be emotionally satisfying to the audience.

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