As a reader, not only is it important to enjoy the plot and the world the story takes place in, but also the characters in which serve as the eyes of the story. If you don’t like a character, how likely are you to want to keep reading the rest of the book, no matter how much you like the plot itself? Developing an intriguing character is part of the challenge of writing a book, doing it correctly in your eyes and in the eyes of your reader is what amplifies the success of your characters and the world you’ve spent so much time building.
It’s not exactly possible to build a character wrong, per se, but there are ways to incorrectly introduce a character to your reader that can start you off on the wrong foot or on the bad side of your reader.
There are three simple ways of gaining the reader’s interest in a character and keeping them interested throughout the book.
1. Make your reader care about the character
This is especially important at the beginning of the book. Why should a reader want to read the rest of your book unless they’re drawn to the character you’re writing about? Don’t try and “sell” your character or your story with as much information as you can logically stuff into the first few paragraphs of your novel (also known as infodumping); open the story by inviting the reader to learn more.
Good: Opening the book with your teenage main character getting kicked out of their home by their psychotic mother.
Bad: Stuffing half a chapter about how annoyed your main character is with their mother before having the main character get kicked out of their home at the end of the chapter.
2. Gradually revealing information
This somewhat builds on the above point, as I personally find it annoying when a book opens up explaining all of the deep dark secrets of the main character, or about their past. Why do I want to know about those things when I don’t know about the story, or if any of that information is relevant? Don’t throw away all of that information you find yourself stuffing at the beginning of your book, but instead save it and reveal everything that’s important as the information is necessary rather than because you want it there.
Earlier last week I was critiquing/editing a novel where the first 500-1000 words were talking about the main character’s job and her parents (if I recall correctly). The job was never important, her mother didn’t get mentioned again (as an important figure to the plot) until the end of the second chapter, and the father even later than that. Simply put, I told them to cut the first half of the first chapter and distribute the information throughout the book where necessary.
3. Your character starts at point A, and ends up at point B. In what state are they when they finally get there?
Your character is a fun loving, carefree, naive little girl. Is she still that girl once she reaches the treasury of the haunted castle? Most characters change throughout the course of the novel. Those that don’t are often referred to as ‘flat’ characters, where those that do are ’round’ (dynamic) characters. To craft a believable story, your main characters are most likely to be rounded characters. If you give a reason for your readers to care about your character, then your reader will want to see your character change and have their knowledge, beliefs, and abilities challenged through the course of the story.
The young girl started searching for the treasury with a group of 5 other people. Three of them she saw murdered before her eyes in various ways, one went insane and she had to kill them to save herself, and the last went missing and she never saw them again. She spends half of the novel paranoid that the last person is going to come out of nowhere and try and kill her. Those don’t sound like events that would keep a person fun loving, carefree, and naive, do they? But it’s important to realize that while those are events that will shape your character through the story, you need to make sure that what changes about your character because of those events fall in line with the character you’ve already created. Meaning that you don’t want to change the character based off of what most people would feel or think after that event, but specifically by what your character feels or thinks about that event.
Truthfully, there is a lot more to building up the reader’s love of your characters, but I say most of that comes with time and experience.
What makes you interested in a character at the start of a book, and what keeps your interested in that character enough to find out how the story ends for them?