WHO ARE THESE CHARACTERS, AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

I always look forward to opening a book and discovering the characters living inside.  I enjoy meeting them, sizing them up, catching on to how they think and react to situations.  Heck, I even like to find out how they smell and what they like to eat.

Some novels start off like gangbusters with the character in the middle of a crash and burn situation, others more slowly and deliberate forcing me to be patient.  In both cases, I have to keep reading to get a handle on who they are and why I should care about them.  If they seem like jerks, what are their redeeming qualities?  If they’re bigger than life and confident, what is their fatal flaw?  How long am I going to be able to put up with that humongous chip on their shoulder, without knowing why it’s there?

A character might seem like a smart aleck right off, but may turn out to be insecure and deeply hurt as the author unpacks the story.  Or the frightened-by-their-own-shadow character, may wind up saving the day. But if they lie, cheat and connive, the back cover book blurb better warn me they’ll have a huge character arc. Then, I’ll love to see how it all plays out…as long as the author keeps it interesting.

I’m not looking for perfection.

The key phrase above all else is – why do I care?  Do I want to spend 200-400 pages with this overly neurotic individual, or this too-cool-for-school dude?  How long before I say, “Oh, come on, get over it already!” to the hurt-by-the-past character, afraid to move on?  Does what they do make sense to me, or are they doing it only because the plot demands it.  Are the characters realistic?  Would I want to know them?  I understand the author can’t do all of this in the first chapter without a huge info dump, so I give a book fifty pages, sometimes one-hundred, to take off and fly.

What is it that makes me care?

It all goes back to the story basics: goal, motivation, conflict.  Is what they have to accomplish in this book realistically motivated, and are the roadblocks on getting there believable.  I like to add one character trait to my list of “musts” – decent.    Deep down, are they honest and likeable individuals? When tested by the plot, does their integrity hold up?

Give me someone to like and root for, not someone I’d rather avoid like the current strain of winter flu.  As I already said, I’m not asking for perfection.  Even if the protagonist is a con artist, as long as he has some code of honor in place, I’ll stick with him.

How much plot do I need?

I don’t believe in love at first sight.  Just because “she” thinks “he” is hot, I’m still going to need many more layers of plot to hold my interest.  On the other extreme, I don’t buy the character who hates someone right off with no good reason, and spends the first half of the book bickering with him until she falls in love.  Give me some meat on them bones, and I’ll stick around to read. (sorry for the mixed metaphor)  If they’re already skipping through the tulips by page ten, I’m gone. Mix it up.  Keep it interesting. Throw me a twist I didn’t see coming, and I’ll keep coming back for more. 

It all boils down to GMC

Yup, I’ll buy almost anything if the author has set it up properly.  I’ll even go along with crazy situations and borderline unbelievable setups, if the author drops a hint of a promise; stick with me on this, I’ll work things out.  Or, if they give me one solid, likeable character trait to hang on to before the dust settles.  Then I’m willing to wade through the chaos in order to get to that necessary kernel of motivation to take me to the end of the book.

How about you? 

What do you like to see right off about characters in books or movies? What makes you put the book down and not pick it back up?

I’ve got a hard back large print copy of The Heart Doctor and the Baby to give to one commenter, and I’ll leave this post up for a week before I draw the name.

 Thanks for reading! 

Next weeks’ topic – Non-heroic Names

 

 

 

 

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22 Responses to WHO ARE THESE CHARACTERS, AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

  1. Mona Risk says:

    Lynne, I saved your blog for future reference. Your advice are coming at the right moment as I am brainstorming a new story and sketching my characters. Thank you.
    http://www.monarisk.com

  2. Mona, I am so pleased to know I could be of help. Best of luck with your new book. Isn’t it exciting to start fresh?

  3. Great info, Lynn. Characters are what draw me into a story, too.

  4. Lynne, you are so right! The layers are crucial to take a character beyond a stereotype going through the motions to a “real person” that you want to get involved with.

    I’m not going to name movie titles, but just say that all the fabulous special effects in the world won’t make up for a cardboard cutout character that presses the buttons by rote. Those movies can be entertaining in a superficial way but they’re not the ones that I want to go back to watch again… and again… and again!

    Great post!
    🙂
    Sharon

    • Thanks for reading, Sharon. I recently saw the movie Red and felt all of the characters were cookie cutters, but I enjoyed the moved just the same. However, you can’t compare it to something like The King’s Speach and the wonderful and real characters.

  5. Nas says:

    You have a great learning post for us struggling writers today. Definitely material for future reference.

    Thanks so much.

  6. Kamy Chetty says:

    For me it’s that feeling of something bigger than me that makes me know that I have to either read on or watch on. It’s that Darcy moment in Pride and Prejudice(when he walks out of the woods) or a feeling I get at a crucial moment that keeps me invested in the book. Hard to explain but you know what I mean:-) Thanks for the advice

    • I do know what you mean, Kamy. And I agree. As long as there is a hint of what is to come, and I like the direction the story is going in, I’ll be there until the very end!

      Thanks so much for reading the blog!

  7. Virginia C says:

    Hello, Lynne! Wow–you and your website look terrific! I am delighted to discover your blog : ) I already own the entire set of your wonderful “Midcoast Medical Trilogy”–such warm and wonderful characters and heart-touching story lines! When a writer enjoys her work and gets wrapped up in the creative process, then the reader reaps the rewards! I like characters who are basically defined around the edges, but still flexible enough to be surprised and revised. A “complete change of character” is not really believable, and also not very interesting. It’s the little flaws, “uh-ohs”, and “ahs” that make for a readable character. No matter what I’m reading, I look for well-developed, involving characters and a detailed, interesting story line.

    • Virginia! I love what you wrote: “I like characters who are basically defined around the edges, but still flexible enough to be surprised and revised.”

      That’s what I strive for with my books, and you put it perfectly.

      So glad you’ve enjoyed the MidCoast Medical trilogy.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog.

      Lynne

  8. Marie Campbell says:

    Lynn,
    You’re absolutely right. I especially love those characters that I can’t stop thinking about long after I’ve finished the story. And I like to think I’m pretty patient – I’ll give an author quite a while to draw me into the lives of her characters before giving up:)

  9. Hi Marie!
    Thanks for commenting. I’m glad to know you are patient with authors and give them the opportunity to bring their characters to life. Sometimes it takes a little longer and other times the story almost takes off without us!

  10. Nancy Holroyd says:

    Hi Lynne;
    There is a lot to think about in your meaty blog. I like to watch the characters reveal a little more of themselves as the story unfolds, so I am willing to give them a little time.

  11. robena grant says:

    Good topic, Lynne.
    My motto is “make me care.” ; )
    If I care about the main character, I’ll stay with the story no matter what the author tosses at me. If I’m not emotionally invested in the character by about page fifty, I won’t care about the story no matter how intricate the plot. I think first impressions of character count more than plot, or even the inciting incident, but I don’t care how they look. (As in how beautiful/handsome.) I want character traits that are interesting and show the promise of a good character arc by the end of the book.

    • So true, Robena, first impressions are always lasting. Page 50 is a good point to stop and decide if the book/characters are worth the time investment.

      I’m with you, beautiful and handsome are much less intriguing than interesting character traits.

      It’s even possible to have a character come off like a jerk, but the reader can be privvy to his internal thought and realize he is doing the complete opposite of what he means to do, and cut him some slack…as long as he learns from his mistakes.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

  12. Summer says:

    I don’t remember ever giving up on a book, though sometimes when I reach the end I do kind of wish I had given up because ultimately something didn’t quite click.

    I never care so much about beauty or wealth or any of the other “fantasy” romance elements, it’s usually some genuine quality about a character, something that feels real and truthful and relatable that endears them to me.

  13. Hi Summer!
    Thanks for stopping by my website and reading my weekly blog. Wow, you are a tolerant person for never giving up on books until the very end. Good for you!

    I’m with you about the genuine qualities being more important than physical traits. There is nothing so endearing as a realistically flawed character – just like the rest of us!

  14. MARIAN says:

    Lynne, I found your article “Who are these charactors and why should I care” very intersesting. I guess I never put much thought into the characters before I started reading a book. But it really makes common sense to know what type of characters are in the book. This may explain why I start many books get bored, frustrated and never finish them. I must say that I have never gotten bored with your books, in fact I don’t want to even put them down when I’m reading them. I’m so sad and depressed when the book ends, I just want it to keep going and going. All I can say is you need to write faster and faster so I always have a new one of your books to read. I love your new website, you and your books. God bless you always. Love Marian

    • Hi Marian!
      Thanks so much for commenting on this blog. I’m really glad you enjoy my books, and that the blog helped you figure out why some books get read and others get closed.

      We need to root for our characters, otherwise, why bother reading the book?

      Keep reading!