As Lisa Cron says in her terrific craft book Story Genius, our brains are wired for connection. People need other people; readers need characters. When we read, we are looking to make a deep emotional connection with the main character of a story.
Here are four ways – dos and don’ts – to ensure that your character makes that reader connection.
And as a reminder, if you like craft ideas like this one, sometime this spring I’ll be launching a Masterclass in Writing the Middle Grade Novel with lots of exercises and lectures. If you’re interested in learning more, click the button.
The Four Character Connections
- Do understand your main character’s desires, both internal and external.
Your main character must have an external story goal that comprises the basis for your plot. And they must have an internal story arc – a long-held, often buried, desire – that drives them emotionally through the hurdles created by the external arc. Your reader wants to know what drives your character as this lets them become emotionally involved in the character’s actions.
- Do make your main character active.
Your main character must be actively engaged in driving the external arc. In the first half of the story your character makes mistake after mistake, pushing against the obstacles. Around the midpoint, your main character may have a revelation which shows them the way forward, as they learn how to tackle the obstacles correctly. Your reader attaches to both the flaws/mistakes, and then to the successes of the character.
- Do create a backstory for your character.
This backstory is crucial to a successful character that has emotional resonance for your reader. Cron in particular emphasizes knowing the wounding event in a character’s backstory, one that drives their inability to act appropriately. Your character had a life before they stepped onto page one of your book – make sure you know what that life was like, and what event or events wounded them. Your reader will have a backstory wound; we all have one or more. We attach to characters who are wounded as well, even when we don’t precisely know what that event was.
- Don’t (unless you are N.K. Jemisin) create more than one main character.
This is not to say not to use multiple points of view. It just means that your reader must attach on page one to one character, and will want to follow that character throughout. Unless you have mastered epic fantasy or science fiction (and few of us will ever) stick to only one main character with one internal and external arc.
Don’t forget to let me know you might be interested in my Masterclass, and in the meantime please let me know what craft tips you’d like to hear about here.