Make Them Care
by Mindy Obenhaus
A novel is an invitation to embark on the journey that lies within its pages. As the author, our job is to capture the reader’s attention on page one and make them want to keep reading.
How do we do that?
By crafting multidimensional characters readers care enough about to be willing to invest themselves in.
We all know that each character needs a goal, motivation and conflict. In my latest release, A Future to Fight For, my heroine’s goal is to purchase an abandoned castle. Her motivation is that she wants to get back into the wedding planning business, but she lives in a small Texas town so she needs something special to draw interest and a castle will do just that. The problem (conflict) is that someone else (the hero) also wants to purchase the castle.
Those are the basics. But let’s dig a little deeper so we can really get to know our heroine. Because the better we know our characters the more our readers will know them. And the more they know, the more they care what happens to those characters and that will keep them reading.
So if our heroine wants to get back into the wedding planning business, that means she was once a wedding planner. So what happened?
Her husband and son were suddenly taken away in a tragic accident, robbing her of her passion and causing her to walk away from the successful business she’d worked hard to build.
Okay, so why does she want to return to it now?
After running a bed and breakfast and catering weddings and other events for the past five years, her love for creating fairytale weddings has reignited, filling her with a purpose she’d been lacking. However, our heroine isn’t just thinking about herself and her desires. No, no, no. She knows that hosting weddings and other events will also boost the revenue of the tiny town she’s grown to love, which shows that she cares for others.
As an author, asking “why” forces us to dig deeper. There has to be a reason our characters think/act the way they do. The more we know about them, the more real they become to the reader who, in turn, becomes so invested in the characters they have to keep reading.
Yet while there’s a lot of stuff to make the reader cheer for my heroine, my hero isn’t quite so likeable. He’s a prickly sort and, when the story opens, there’s no love lost between him and the heroine. So how do you make someone likeable when they’re behaving like a jerk?
Give the reader glimpses of their heart. Something that’s easier to do when we’re in their POV. Unfortunately, the first time we meet the hero, we’re in the heroine’s point of view and we know right away that she’s not particularly fond of him and why. So, I had to show him doing something endearing like helping the heroine when she’s about to topple a load of baked goods and buying some lemon cookies because they’re his daughter’s favorite. Little hints that let us know our cranky fellow might have a heart, after all.
Of course, as the story unfolds, we learn that our hero has some deep wounds, too. Throw in a couple of kids he’ll do anything for, and you’ve got a recipe for plenty of push and pull between the hero and heroine.
“Why” can be a writer’s greatest tool to help dig beyond our character’s superficial GMC’s to unearth a treasure trove of details that will not only help you the author know your characters better, but will transcend to the story to capture the reader’s attention and make them care about the characters they often come to think of as friends.
What tricks or tools do you employ to get to know your characters better?