How engaging characters can be more important than a great plot!
So you’ve come up with a great plot, great! So now what? Where to start, open up the lap top lid and tap away into the wee small hours right?
Well, to be honest sometimes having an amazing plot isn’t always a sure fire way to write a good book. And some great books can fall at the first hurdle if the characters that you have in the story are a bit wooden and not engaging to the reader.
Let’s take three characters from the movies as a comparative.
Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker & Simba from the Lion King. Why do these characters resonate so much with us, why do we relate to them and why do we get so upset when they’re in peril?
Well, they all share something in common. Something that’s hiding in plain sight — all these main characters or Hero’s are vulnerable or have major flaws or disadvantaged in some way. And this vulnerability is shared with the reader very early on in the story.
This is one of the best ways to get your reader to care about your character. This can be the glue that connects your reader to your character and your story and wants them to read on and follow them on whatever journey their adventure may take.
Ok, so can you just have great characters and a rubbish plot?
Well, the answer is, No. The plot moves the story forward. But remember that it's the characters, especially your hero, that keep readers engaged in your story and wanting to read on!
Ice cream is always better with syrup and sprinkles? Ice cream is your plot & an engaging character is your syrup, sprinkles & nuts!
As soon as a reader is engaged with the main character they start to care about your character. They then start to empathise with the character, and understands their strengths and weaknesses more and root for your character to overcome any potential obstacles to come.
You’ll find that character empathy is essential for any great story just look at how different Harry Potter, Star wars & The Lion King differ from each other but you instantly begin to root for Harry, Luke & Simba as they begin their adventure because they all share that vulnerability.
So, how to build this badass hero?
Well, three crucial points is what separates a character from being instantly forgotten or forever remembered.
Element 1): Disadvantage
Life’s hard right? I’m sure we can all agree on that! I’m sure many of you are going through something really tough at the moment, if that’s the case then look to give your character an inescapable social, political, or economic disadvantage.
They say write what you know, if you’re going through something that’s troubling then write about that, not only will it give your character life but it can also be a cathartic exercise and make you feel better about your situation, it may even pave the way to a solution for you!
Readers want to see the character overcome the disadvantage and like most people, readers don’t want to see innocent people suffer.
Rooting for the underdog who can’t escape from their disadvantage Is what we British do best!
Very important! Do remember the disadvantage cannot be a habit or some sort of an addiction, the character has acquired and can overcome by willpower and dedication. The disadvantage is a given. The hero must live with the disadvantage and then will the reader sympathise.
Element 2:) Context
Context is how you use comparison in your story. Look to compare your hero’s strengths to those of other characters in your story. If your hero lives by his wits, his nemesis or antagonist is smarter.
So as your reader has been admiring your hero’s skills and strengths. Now that strength is about to be put to the test by someone bigger, smarter, more adept than your hero.
And your reader feels the difference. Now everything is tilted to make your hero’s strength a vulnerability. You shed new light on your character, and once again your reader is empathising with this new comparative situation. What was a strength is now a vulnerability and your reader reacts?
Element 3:) Vulnerability
Harry Potter is an orphan living with his wicked Uncle & Aunty. Luke’s family was killed by Darth Vader and imperial stormtroopers. Mustafa was betrayed and murdered by Scar leaving Simba alone.
The reason for this is reader empathy. This technique is so powerful, and you only need to do it once. You don’t need to overdo vulnerability, one instance in your story is all it takes. Every reader is human. When they see vulnerability in your hero, it strengthens the connection.
Amplify the vulnerability. Have surrounding characters respond to your hero’s moment of vulnerability. Or have an object that the main character was given, the key is to make the connection between the object and your hero’s emotional frailty. Your reader will make the connection.
I have applied these followings in my book - Dylan McFinn & The Sea Serpent’s Fury which was published in September and available now to buy on Amazon.
So Dylan, (our hero or protagonist) - Upcoming spoiler alert! On his thirteenth birthday goes on a very special camping trip but is cursed by a mythical sea monster as a result, his Mother gets washed away in a storm & his Father is captured and put into prison.
Dylan and his brother are now orphaned and have now way of getting home… this vulnerability will now stay with him throughout the book.
His brother Axneus will become his antagonist and although he will not be as strong as Dylan, will be stronger than him in other ways that he uses to his advantages as the series progresses.
These moments of vulnerability work in any genre. I created vulnerabilities in Dylan’s background, then I will look to use them at the appropriate plot points throughout the series to (hopefully) keep the reader engaged.
The way a reader comes to know your character is similar to the way we come to know people in real life. Maybe you know somebody who has overcome so much and you admire them for what they have achieved. The rules still apply within the structure of writing a story.