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How do I make the reader care about my characters?

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Wed Jul 13, 2011 8:20 pm
joshuapaul says...



I couldn't find any old thread that deals with this and its something I am struggling with. I want to learn how to write characters that readers love. I know my characters well but I can't seem to weave their personalities into the text. Perhaps because I already know everything about my characters I provide little explanation to why they do the things they do, if that makes sense...

Anyway what are the best activities to improve my writing in this regard? Does anyone else struggle with this?
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Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:06 pm
Rosey Unicorn says...



Sympathy.

Put the characters in a bad situation and it hurts them. Show the reader how much that hurts. Why it's a bad situation. How it's effecting your MC. Once you've set this up the conflict (like, why your MC can't change the bad situation) gets set up, and the formula for tension has been fulfilled.

Be careful, as bad situations can quickly lead to angst/wangst, which is when the character whines way too much and it's unsympathetic. It's a bit of a tricky balance, but I've found it's all in the characters' attitude. So long as they actively try to change the circumstance, they tend to be more sympathetic.
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Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:16 pm
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WrittenInStone says...



What I do when I want my readers to feel for the characters would be - like the user above me - I put them in some bad situations.. Like the beginning of my novel "Freedom within the Flames" the secondary MC is put in a situation where his mother is going to be killed because she was accused of being a witch. During that time I explain what the characters feeling, I mix in some mystery and some drama - a little boy reaching towards her crying out "Mama!" - and I'm set. The reader's should feel a sense of sadness, and of curiosity . I didn't give all the details, but that's basically what I did.
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Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:27 pm
joshuapaul says...



Thanks Rosey and WrittenInStone. I think I do this. I mean I have recently been struggling with a Novel I am working on. It opens with a dog attack and perhaps I don't take advantage of the opportunity to develop their characters there.

Please if you could taper your advice to my work particularly that would be fantastic.

novel.php?id=1604

This is the work that has been causing me such anguish and frustration. I don't expect you do read it all but if you could have a look at my style and perhaps you will see where I am going wrong.

Thanks all the same your advice is much appreciated.
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Thu Jul 14, 2011 6:05 pm
Masquerade says...



I agree, sympathy is definitely important to make a reader like a character. I, too, put my characters in bad situations to build up sympathy.

Another important thing, though, is creating a realistic character. I find it really hard to care about characters that don't act like real people. I believe this is because readers like a character they can empathize with. I always find I care more about a character, generally, if I can find something I have in common with them. It's very hard to find something in common in a character who doesn't react to situations and behave like a real person.
"Many people hear voices when no-one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing."
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Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:56 pm
joshuapaul says...



http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/ ... 848078.ece

I found in this article a particularly helpful piece of insight. The writer draws comparisons between Carvers writing before and after it was edited. I feel his explanation in the following excerpt highlights how you can provide a lot of depth and make your narrator relatable.

Look closely at the opening to the story Beginners and you can see that Lish made changes that gave Carver’s prose greater punch. Carver’s original sentence reads: “My friend Herb McGinnis, a cardiologist, was talking.”

This is fine; it gets the job done and has a nicely understated quality.

Lish’s version, though, goes like this: “My friend Mel McGinnis was talking. Mel McGinnis is a cardiologist, and sometimes that gives him the right.”

From Lish’s two sentences, we learn a lot more about the narrator than from Carver’s one. We learn that he has a sense of humour and also an edge.
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Sun Jul 24, 2011 1:47 pm
Jennya says...



This is very interesting, I too have trouble with this but then again I don't really want characters to completely loved. I think the other people are right, sympathy does help, but to me people like characters that they can relate to. Whining is never good, just look at Twilight, I'm sure the author wanted us to love her female lead but by the middle of the second book I wanted to axe murder her.

The article was very interesting ( but I didn't read all of it :? ) editors play a bigger part than we think they do.
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Sun Jul 24, 2011 6:47 pm
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Kyllorac says...



You cannot make readers like (or dislike) your characters; it's something the readers decide for themselves, and when authors really want their readers to like (or dislike) a particular character, it comes across as painfully obvious more often than not, which inclines one's readers to go "meh" and not care for the character at all.

What you can do is show your readers your character's motivations and reasoning so that, even if they do not necessarily like the character, your readers can at least understand the character, and through that understanding, they will be able to relate to that character. And the better they can relate to that character, the more likely your readers will be to find themselves liking (or at least tolerating) them.
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Tue Oct 11, 2011 2:28 pm
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Dynamo says...



Contrary to what most of the people here have said, empathy is the way to go. Sure, sympathy can be useful to make someone care about a character, but in a way it's too easy and less effective. Anyone can feel sorry for someone who is hurt or treated badly, but being able to make your readers empathize with your character is much more powerful.

A common misconception with empathy is that most people think it means the same as sympathy, which is untrue. Empathy is being able to relate to a character, to understand what he or she is going through. If the reader sees a little of themselves in the main character they begin to care more about his struggles. A way I'm trying to do this is by giving my character claustraphobia. Most people have a phobia, or at least knows someone who does, so by having the character fight with a fear that your readers are familiar with helps them connect to the character on a more personal level. For most, empathy is a tough element to wrap the mind around, but if you learn to weild it effectively you can create truly memorable characters.

To make things a little easier to understand, here's an example of both instances:

Sympathy: When a person stubs their toe you feel sorry for them because they're in pain.

Empathy: When a person stubs their toe you understand the pain they're going through because you yourself have stubbed your own toe in the past.
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Tue Oct 11, 2011 7:15 pm
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RachaelElg says...



I agree with Kyllorac, not so much with the others. Dynamo makes a good point but you can't make your readers have empathy either. If your reader is a heartless jerk, then your reader is a heartless jerk and you have a perhaps a long way to go.

As Kyllorac mentioned, one of the biggest mistakes writers make is trying to make the reader dislike or like a character There's a trade term that often applies to the latter and it's Mary Sueism. Or at least one aspect of Mary Sueism. Which is the writer wanting to make sure that the reader thinks Mary is So_Awesome and giving off the aura of, "YOU HAVE TO LIKE THIS CHARACTER OR ELSE>>>>A<S<A<SAS." But that's more or less the same as trying to force a theme down a reader's throat. You can't make the reader believe that, I dunno, honesty is the best policy. You can only present your best case for it.

Characters, though, and making sure you've got characters in which the readers want to invest something in. The easy answer is to have characters who are investable in from the get go. Readers come with prejudices, after all, and so mass murderers or just one-time murderers don't always go over well. That of course changes on the genre and the victim and such. But characters who hurt animals and children, etc, universally not exactly the character the reader wants to go give a hug.

But an honest, even, fair presentation of the character...that's what brings the reader to a character. That understanding, as others have mentioned. Or perhaps a lack of understanding. Characters who are unpredictable can also be endearing.

Then there's the question of what type of characters you're going for, too. Rowling's characters are different from Stephen King's characters, who are different still from Shakespeare's and George R.R. Martin's and Chekov's. All have been labelled as great character writers, but all achieve that through different methods. So there isn't any one sure-fire way to "make" a reader care about a character.
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Sun Oct 16, 2011 12:47 am
fading-dream says...



It really comes down to if you care about your characters. If you are intrigued with them, your readers will be too, at least, if you've written the character correctly.
Current Project: Otherworld (Novel) - 11,000 words so far
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Past stories: Burning Apart, The Beast, Binding Darkness - Ch. 1, What David Taught Me, The Banquette, Mirror of Memories, Leaving Humanity, Little Green Men, Six Days