Creative Writing Writing 101 2020-02-24 00:00

Want to Step Up Reader Engagement with Your Characters? You Need to Read This First.

man and woman together Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

  1. Make Your Engaging Character a Reality
  2. Tip #1: More Personality, Fewer Physical Details
  3. Tip #2: Give Them a Goal
  4. Tip #3: Proactive Beats Responsive
  5. Tip #4: Go Complex and Nuanced
  6. Tip: #5: Make Them Relatable
  7. Tip #6: Show Weakness, Flaws, and Failure
  8. Why It Works

Make Your Engaging Character a Reality

An engaging character is one your reader wants to get to know. That character is entertaining and interesting. And, your reader likes your character well enough to follow that character through the ups and downs, wins and setbacks of your story.

When couples get engaged they agree to a long-lasting relationship, marriage. You want your reader to love your character enough to follow them through the ups and downs, obstacles and missteps, trials and triumphs of your story.

To create an engaging character, you need to understand how readers respond emotionally to the ways you present your character from the opening pages and throughout your story. Just like an engagement, you want your reader to know the most intriguing traits to start and then reveal more as the story progresses.

Put a ring on your reader’s finger. Use these six top tips to create engaging characters.

Tip #1: More Personality, Fewer Physical Details

While you want to flesh out your character as much as possible in your character bible, you don’t need to share everything you know about your character in your story. Work on your character’s personality but give hints of physical details.

When your reader creates an image in their mind of your character, they form an emotional attachment. Give them room to imagine by using broad strokes to describe your character. Let the reader fill in the details.

Tip #2: Give Them a Goal

A character without a goal wanders through your story. With a goal, your reader can root for your character to achieve their goal. They’ll feel disappointment when your character meets an obstacle. They’ll cheer at your character’s final victory.

The goal will vary depending on your genre, but the main point is to give your character an identifiable goal. This is the impetus for your story. Readers want a purpose and love to root for your hero. When your character has a goal, the reader follows your character’s journey through all kinds of obstacles in order to reach the goal.

PRO TIP: Give your protagonist two goals, an outer goal (physical), like catch the thief and an inner goal (emotional), like overcoming a deep fear of heights. You add depth to your character and give your reader more reasons to engage with your character. Allow the two goals to come into conflict.

Tip #3: Proactive Beats Responsive

Your character must take action. They may get help from a sidekick or mentor, but your protagonist is the one who takes action. It may be right or wrong action, but your character is the one who acts. Not the sidekick, not the love interest, not the mentor.

Give the reader a way to empathize with the character’s actions. When your character acts, they create consequences. Those consequences impact your reader and keep them involved in the character and your story. Your reader experiences disappointment when an action gets your hero into trouble and feels relief when an action succeeds.

Tip #4: Go Complex and Nuanced

While you paint your character’s physical details with broad strokes, reveal the complexities of your character’s personality in detail. Bring your character’s complexities alive for your readers by introducing them to many diverse situations. Show your reader how your character acts in these differing circumstances.

Show your reader your character’s many talents and foibles. Each new experience adds another dimension to your reader’s perception. Layers add dimension. Dimension gives your reader a sense that your character is real because real people, like your reader, encounter a wide variety of situations.

Tip: #5: Make Them Relatable

When a reader relates to your character, they see a connection to their own humanity. Frailties, defeats, confusion, and success are all human conditions. Characters who act like people make connections with your reader and keeps them engrossed in your story.

defeated man with face in hands Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash

Tip #6: Show Weakness, Flaws, and Failure

A perfect character with no flaws is not believable. More to the point, a reader cannot relate to a character with no flaws.

You don’t need to overload your character with multiple, burdensome weaknesses. One or two will suffice to help your reader relate. Everyone has flaws and readers recognize this human frailty in your character.

Your character’s flaws initiate action that leads to failure. Failure, too, is part of the human condition. A perfect character always succeeds. A character with imperfections meets with failure. You have an entire middle of the book to pile on attempts that lead to failure. When your character suffers, your reader relates.

Why It Works

Once you start writing, you’ll discover your characters take on life and often lead you in unexpected directions, because they are acting in character. These character-driven actions go deep into the character’s personality, and they are the food for creating believable characters.

Grant Jarrett says in an essay on believable characters:

If you allow that mysterious process to reveal its own special truth it may transport you to unexpected places and reveal to you a story even more compelling and true than the one you initially envisioned, surprising you and, more importantly, your readers.

Model your characters on people. Give them a personality. Add a flaw and weakness. Then set them off to achieve a goal.

Readers relate to believable characters. Give them what they want.

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