Sunday, January 3, 2016

Character Appeal

Like sex appeal, you can get the job done lots of ways. That’s good, because character appeal is as crucial to novels as sex appeal to budding romance. No spark? Seek electricity elsewhere.

Just as horrid breath or greasy hair swiftly drove off potential mates, certain openings send readers into the arms of another choice. These are unlovable creations:

~ The wimp.

Protagonists need to emerge, mature, grow. But a hapless, sheepish, or pathetic central character can’t engage readers long enough to watch the magic happen.

~ The grouch.

Life is full of icky people. Can’t be helped. Fiction promises to let us escape all that. Make that promise on your opening page, if not your opening paragraph.

~ The team where every member’s a loser.

Readers want to root for somebody. If every character seems boring, stereotypical, sad, terrified, or nasty, again, no matter how much one of them develops, it’s too little too late.

Jo Walton admits that, “I care more about the people in books than the people I see every day.” When fiction’s characters are well done, many of us do. How does a novelist achieve that? And right away?

ü  Defy expectations.

            The muscular hero is vulnerable, the pale princess strong and feisty. Switcheroo.

ü  Make everyone multi-dimensional.

Readers must despise something about the protagonist and applaud something about the antagonist: “You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.” – John Rogers

ü  Breed empathy.

When emotion is original and complex rather than simplistic and manipulative, we cheer with winners and despair with victims. Emphasize commonality: “These emotions–fear, pain, doubt–are part of the human condition. If your hero is impervious to them, it is harder to understand them and harder to imagine ourselves as them.” – Tristan Gregory

ü  Create resilient resourcefulness.

“You cannot have an effective protagonist who simply responds to events happening around him or her. Your protagonist must act, not just react.” -- Rachelle Gardner

Not easy to do. But don’t we write fiction in order to accompany dynamic characters?

Tip: Fiction follows characters, so create at least one whom readers want to follow.

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