Write Irresistible Characters: The #1 Way to Hook Readers

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

Building a relationship with your reader

Whether you’re writing a short story, a novel or a trilogy of space operas, what you want your reader to do, after they’ve turned the last page is sigh, sit back and wonder where they can find more examples of your writing or, even better, more stories featuring your fabulous heroine.

I had a series of thoughts provoked by a book I’ve just read on a subject that is only peripherally related to writing: how to build lists of readers eager to read your stuff. I talked last week about reading it aloud during the long journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

It’s by Tammi Labreque and it’s called Newsletter Ninja: How to Become an Author Mailing List Expert.

She argues very cogently that if you want to have people buy your books, your best tactic is to build a relationship with the potential readers on your mailing lists. Then, instead of their being indifferent or casual readers, they will enthusiastically embrace each new book you publish and send your sales soaring.

Right, I acknowledge that so far I’ve not said very much of compelling interest to many of you.

Write Irresistible Characters: The #1 Way to Hook Readers

But here’s the thing: it struck me that what writers do when they create characters and build fictional worlds and set stories in motion, is precisely that: they create powerful emotional links between their creation – the book – and their readers. And what is another word for “powerful emotional links”? You got it: a relationship.

Think about it.

You are composing one of those spring and autumn romances involving a younger man and an older woman. It’s a tender story in which the grown children of the woman, let’s call her Clara, disapprove of the romance (“It’s inappropriate, mama – it’s embarrassing!”). Clara herself has a host of misgivings.

You, as a writer, face a formidable task. You have to overcome your readers’ own prejudices about relationships of this sort. You have to get them on the side of Clara and her beau – and yet you want them to experience the complexity of the situation. You want them at first to suspect the motives of the young man – let’s call him Gideon, (“He’s just after her money…”) but in the end you want them to lay these suspicions aside and root for Clara and Gideon.

As I say, you want your readers to have identified with the issues that Clara and Gideon have to solve; you want them to sympathise with them (rather than Clara’s tweezer-lipped offspring); you want them, in short, to like Clara and Gideon, despite the apparent foolishness of their relationship.

Make your characters relatable

So how do you encourage readers to develop these feelings for your love-birds? Well, now we’re back on familiar territory. I’ve written before about making characters relatable. Let’s count the ways:

  • You reveal their vulnerabilities and frailties. Gideon, while apparently brimming with self-confidence, is often stricken by feelings of imposter syndrome. Clara, likewise, after a bad marriage with a psychologically abusive man, has difficulty in persuading herself that she possesses loveable qualities.
  • You let us in to their inner psychic sanctum, giving us glimpses of their most secret hopes and fears.
  • You let us know what your characters want: love, security, freedom from fear.
  • You show us how they struggle, against the odds (and, in Clara’s case, her children), to succeed in their quest to achieve their goals.

Compelling fictional characters are always singular and particular. But the strands that, woven together, (their desires, their fears, their vulnerabilities) make them up, are universal. In fact, it’s not too much to say that the more individual the character, the more her universal qualities will shine through.

And the more you succeed in creating unique characters with universal qualities, the easier it becomes for your readers to form relationships with them. It follows logically that readers will, when they fall in love with a character, consume the story she stars in, and beg for more.

And, interestingly, the deeper the relationship your reader forges with your work, the deeper the relationship she will forge with you.

Happy writing,

Richard

P.S. Our recent free gift to you, Rocket Fuel for Your Writing, includes a section on character building strategies and a handy exercise. If you haven’t already done so, download it now.

P.P.S.

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