Hi again! Today I thought I’d take a bit of a break from the technical stuff I’ve been covering and get into something that’s a little more philosophical and almost entirely personal based. It’s about creating an emotional investment for your readers.
I’ve read a few books and stories (and seen a few movies) where after a little while I just stopped reading or watching. That’s very rare actually. As the vykati like to say, I can count the number on one paw without using my thumb. Feel free to mention in the comments some of your favorite least favorites. Chances are what I’m discussing here played at least a small role. In my case it applied for every single one and was the main reason.
Given the time it takes to read a book, there’s a certain level of emotional commitment involved. We read to experience new places and people and emotions. If we wanted to feel what we normally experience in a day, we’d go wash the dishes for fourteen hours. We keep turning the pages because we want to know what happens next. The dishes are the same ones over and over, but a book… a book doesn’t make dirty dishes.
There are two keys to ensure that those pages keep turning: your characters and your conflict. Today, I’m going to focus on characters and I’ll pick up conflict next week.
For the sake of discussion in this week’s journal, when I talk about characters, I’m talking specifically about the ones that’re directly involved in some kind of conflict. Obviously, any person mentioned in your book is technically a character, but most are merely the grease that helps the engine run and not the parts making the actual movement.
It seems to me like it’s a complete no brainer, but I’ve seen it ignored often enough, that it apparently isn’t. If people don’t care about your characters, they won’t care what happens to them. If people don’t care what happens in your story, there’s no reason for them to read it. I’m not saying your characters have to be very likable and charismatic. I’m just saying that there has to be a reason people want to follow their actions.
This is another area that I could probably write weeks’ worth of journals about, but for the sake of time and my sanity, I’ll stick with just the two biggest areas that make a difference. The first is what I’ve heard called, “the human condition.” On that required reading list I’ve talked about before, is Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. Seems pretty weird huh? What’s a seventeenth century play doing on the required reading list to write in a steampunk world? The Difference Engine made sense, but that? Well, rereading it gave me a pretty good idea of why it was included. Almost every one of the characters in that play has a real-world friend or acquaintance that I can directly compare them to. Polonius? The political schemer. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Those friends that always seem to have their own motives. Gertrude? A person that was horribly deceived.
The play is full of that human condition. It’s still around today because even though it was written 417 years ago, we can still relate to the people that’re involved. The world around us has changed so drastically and how we interact with that world has evolved but the truth is people haven’t changed.
It’s an important element that gets often overlooked, especially in “furry” fiction and re-emphasizes something I’ve mentioned before. The best thing you can do to help your writing outside of practice is to get out in the world and LIVE. You need experience that human condition firsthand in order to be able to put it into your stories. Your characters should have likes and loves. Real people have concepts and people they value. They should have foibles and weaknesses, times of doubt, and should be acquainted with success and failure. You might not be able to demonstrate all that, but the more you know before you put that character on paper, the more life will be breathed into your creation.
Side note here. Don’t’ feel like you need to come up with all that and meticulously write it all out. I know that recommendation is out there and I’m sure it’s great for some people. But a lot of times I don’t know the answer to those questions until the character faces them and then, I know the character well enough to know the answer. I knew Sajani’s mother had fur the same color and pattern as her daughter’s from the start of the book. I didn’t know she died defending her country until Chapter 3.
The human condition is a bit deeper concept philosophically than some of my other suggestions, so it doesn’t surprise me too much when it fails to come into play in a story. What does surprise me to see is antagonists that aren’t likeable. Even the main villain in my books, General Sestus, was intentionally given some minor characteristics that show a human and likable person. He’ll do anything to protect his people. He has a warped sense of humor that isn’t cruel. I want readers to cheer if he’s finally defeated (spoiler: he isn’t), but I didn’t want the reader to feel a constant need to punch him.
If it can be important in a recurring villain, it should be of paramount importance to your main character. There are so many ways to make your characters likeable, but I don’t think I need to hit every single one of them. Instead, I’ll give you an easy suggestion: if you like your characters, there’s a good chance others will like them. If you can make characters that most of your friends will like, there’s an even better chance people will them.
A couple of simple hints that tend to be rather universal. Have the character do something kind. This falls a little back on the human condition thing. Most of us, no matter how depraved and messed up, want to see kindness. It doesn’t have to be anything major. Sajani shows she admires Simon in little ways, while still mostly making fun of him. Sestus tells a soldier that she’s not responsible for what her sergeant did. Benayle smiles at everyone.
The other great thing is for the character to have a noble aspiration—something that she really admires or is willing to fight to the death for. Sajani wants to keep her people free. Benayle wants his people to be accepted by others. Sestus wants to keep his people safe. Lady Trafey wants to study Terahn archeology without military interference. We all have goals in our lives and things that are really important to us are often shared by many.
Well, that’s about it for this week. Thank you so much to my few followers. I keep going for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment. I like to present tips in a way that isn’t insistent or angsty. If you have ideas for future journals let me know in the comments or email me at chaaya.chandra(a)outlook.com Next week will be about getting your reader emotionally involved with your story by using conflict. Until then, may you keep on running and never look back. (the traditional ending to a vykati faery tale)