Friday, September 23, 2016

Engaging Characters: Writing Characters who Live on in the Reader's Imagination -- by Rachel

Othello and Iago
Characters readers latch on to, causing them to compulsively follow the trail of pages and then come back for a re-read – that’s who we want to write. But how do we get there?

Make the reader worry
People are social, and on the whole, want to help others in danger. Develop a character who is at risk in some way, and the reader will need to see them to safety. This can be outright danger – someone who is being stalked or in battle. But it can be understated too. A misunderstood hero or a neglected child, for example, makes the reader root for them all the more.

Develop characters who respond
As much as we as a species, want to be helpful, we don’t have patience for cry-babies and screamers. Even if tears seem appropriate for the circumstance, readers won’t stick around long for that kind of thing. They want to see constructive action, not passivity. Characters who respond with creativity, courage, determination or off-beat reactions, will have the reader flipping the pages, not only remembering the character, but perhaps even drawing on the character's resourcefulness in their own dilemmas.

Define your character
Characters who stick around in a reader’s imagination do so because they are real people – colorful, defined and interesting. They don’t just do things. They are someone. Find their traits and then play them up. As with a play where actors need to increase their mannerisms to be seen and appreciated by the crowd, if you turn up the notch on your character’s traits, the character will be more visible to the reader and more appreciated. As we remember famous people because they are risk-takers, charismatic leaders, beautiful, talented or vividly compassionate, we will remember your character for the same kinds of reasons.

Give context to your character
Put your character among relief characters to show who they are. Rosamunde Pilcher in Coming Home, shows off Judith’s pragmatic character most clearly by using the very colorful, dysfunctional Carey-Lewis family as her backdrop. In the same way, force a shy character to give public speeches, drop a methodical character into chaos or a saint into political intrigue to show who they really are.

Grow your character
This might be the most important characteristic that keeps readers coming back. Characters who are forced against the wall and become braver, wiser or just fit into their own skins a little more surely are memorable. Adversity and growth are the stuff of real life. A character's successful navigation through the labyrinth of maturity gives us hope about our own journeys.

Make them real
Last, while readers remember and are drawn to characters who are dramatic, they want them to feel like real people too. Your characters may be more courageous or more talented than your average Joe. Hopefully, they are. But even great generals have been known to doubt themselves and brilliant singers have lost their voices mid-concert. You don’t need to show every blemish, but add enough that your reader will feel like this is someone who might actually live, if not in their neighborhood, in a real neighborhood somewhere.

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