Monday, October 18, 2010

You Want My Love

Well, not you specifically. But your character wants it. Or, at least, they should. Here's why.

Okay, obligatory statement of the obvious: Captain Film Major and I disagree on movies. (I know. You're all having heart attacks and dying from that surprise.) But, to bother being specific in this case, we disagree about the movie Fargo.

I highly anticipate that some of you are going to disagree with me about this one, and you can feel free to express that. But, basically, Captain Film Major loves that movie. Me, well, when he made me watch it, I contemplated violence against myself to escape. Nothing serious, just that feeling of, 'Hey, if I stab myself in the eye, can I stop watching now?'

Here's my deal with Fargo: I don't give a flying flamingo about any of the characters. Not one of them. There was no one in the movie to whom I felt an emotional connection. So, though this film is considered a cinema classic, I never want to see it again. It bored the living daylights outta me.

Why? Because when I'm watching a film/reading a book/hearing a story about people I don't care about do things I thereby don't care about, I tend to get bored.

In my experience, most people are the same way. Ever been stuck on a train with a stranger who wants to tell you about their second cousin's root canal? And you're just sitting there thinking, "And I care about this why? I hope this person gets off at the next stop. Please, Whatever Higher Power Happens to Be Listening, please let them get off at the next stop." Whereas, if it's your best friend telling you about their grueling trip to your dentist, you'll probably care more. People tend not to care about the doings and feelings of those to whom they have no connection.

Those rules that apply to strangers on a train apply to characters. If the reader feels no emotional connection to the character, no love, then they're not going to care about the character or anything that happens to him or her. Whereas, if you've made the reader fall in love with/feel great love for the character, then the reader will feel their joy and pain. That's what you're going for. Make the reader suffer, so they can enjoy the success.

Think of it this way: Harry Potter. Harry's a nice, down-trodden kid who gets picked on. So you're rooting for him when he gets to leave. Then he's taken and put into a situation where he's inexperienced and doesn't have a clue what to do, so he's got to maneuver in unfamiliar territory where not everyone is friendly, even though you know that since he's nice and down-trodden, this is all really unfair. So you're rooting for him when he makes friends and figuring it all out. (Quidditch!) Then he has to save the world, which is really, really hard, and he's doing his best. So you're rooting for him when he tries. Harry's a nice guy doing his best in a hard situation, so you like him.

Instead, now, picture Draco Malfoy in his place.
Draco's an annoying, arrogant jerk. So you don't care about his feelings when Harry tells him to shove off. Then he goes to a school where he's already accorded some respect for being a pure-blood and, by virtue of his blood and wealth, already has some power and friends. So you don't care about any struggles he has at school, since they don't seem that back. Then he wants to get in the way of someone trying to save the world. So you really wish Ron and Harry could push him off a glacier and make it look like an accident.

Getting the reader to love the character's important. So, you're going to have to make the character lovable. Once you've got the reader to love the character, you can lead the reader through the ups and downs of the fascinating story, and the reader will stay interested. Because they care about what happens to the character.

Your characters feeling the love?

How's your writing going? Do you ever have trouble getting readers to love your characters? Have you ever run along characters you just can't care for? How did this effect your reading/viewing/listening experience?


  1. I come across a lot of characters that I don't like, which is unfortunate because characters really do make and break it for me.

    You know what though? While I agree with your major points here (and adore the Harry Potter comparisons) I have to say that I think, a writer focusing on Draco could have made his story interesting. They could have made us sympathize with him even though he's spoiled and not very nice because people are never quite that simple. His political struggles - keeping the status quo, maintaining appearances. Because from his side of it, and hearing his opinions, we could very well end up not liking Harry (I know, this is blasphemy...). And think about this...his father gets thrown into prison - maybe he deserves it but we'd sympathize and then his life and his mothers require him to kill a person and he realizes he just can't do it but not doing it will lead to his mom dying so he really doesn't have a choice.... when I think about it, I think you can make us sympathetic to a character who isn't necessarily lovable - in the conventional way.

  2. Yes yes and yes. I need to feel something for at least one character if I'm going to be pulled into any movie or book. Writing is going well! Might even test the waters with querying tomorrow!

  3. I'm struggling a little bit on how to make my anti-heroine a loveable character. I love her to pieces, but others (who haven't had her in their heads for 5 years) will most likely take offense to her abrasive personality and love for pain/suffering. Ah well, it's an adventure ;)

  4. Melissa -- I probably should have specified that my comparison applied largely to Sorcerer's Stone. Draco's character does round out and become more sympathetic as the series continues. He certainly got some of my love by the end.

    Query Girl -- Ooh, good luck with the queries.

    Vicki -- That's definitely one of those areas where Betas are helpful. Sometimes it's hard to gauge the lovability of your own characters.