Have you ever wondered how can you make your readers identify with your character(s) or sympathize with them? Here are 7 tips you can use! Earlier last year I went to a Sisters In Crime writer’s conference and one of the presenters was James Rollins. He listed seven fundamental tricks to accomplish just this. he himself, had learned them from another author. It is only fitting that I too, pass them on to any aspiring writers out there!
What I’ve done here is incorporated my own experience and expertise into the seven basic principles and expounded upon them to bring more depth and understanding to the these ideas. I’ve even rephrased the principles.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to incorporate all 7 into your book(s) to be effective! Two or three should be sufficient. You can of course, mix a variety of them up into a series of books if you wanted to. In other words, try not to use the same tactics in each book so as to not become predictable or ordinary. And remember, your first priority is to be able to engage the reader. These tips will help you do that. Your second priority is to carry out the plot.
Seven tricks to building a bond between your character(s) and your readers:
1. You can have other characters in your book like your main character(s) or express love, affection, respect or goodwill towards them.
a. When the reader encounters these positive attitudes and opinions from other characters toward your main character(s), it attaches to the reader and influences their own feelings toward your characters.
b. Much like in real life when we hear high praise and the “good gossip” about a person before we’ve even meet them for ourselves, we might often find that we already “like” them by the time we meet them because those feeling have already been established. It becomes easy to develop a relationship and much quicker as well.
c. If we hear negative comments (like the “bad” kind of gossip), we tend to not have good feelings toward that person, even if we never meet them and even if they have never actually done anything bad or rude to us. It is simply human nature to develop an offense or negative impression of that person, even if we don’t intend to. It colors our trust or initial judgment of them.
i. On a side note, this is also why it is so important to always try to portray yourself in public the way you’d wish your professional reputation to be known. Because people do talk. A lot. And you never know who is watching, listening or the one you are being rude to. They may know someone who one day, you wish you knew. And if that person gets an ear full of negative tid-bits, chances are, you just shot yourself in the foot.
2. If possible, try to write your character so that they come across a little funny or humorous. Whether it is slap stick humor in a scene or adding some flippantly delivered or sarcastic remarks or response.
a. Everyone loves a good laugh or a chuckle from a witty remark.
b. Not everyone is a comedian. But almost anyone can be flippant or sarcastic. Even dry humor can be entertaining to the right crowd. Find what you’re good at and add a touch here and there.
c. And studies show that when a person laughs, stress is reduced, anxiety and tension subside, and the mind opens up. Laughter even helps the learning process. So if you can bring some good feelings to your reader through laughter, they will find your books all the more enjoyable and maybe even therapeutic in a sense.
3. Demonstrate your character showing kindness to someone else in your book.
a. This can also be done through a minor character if you don’t want to have your major character acting as humanly.
b. Everyone likes to see someone do the right thing. It makes us feel good. It’s how we might secretly wish we were all the time.
4. Demonstrate in the story that they are really good in their field or even an expert in their field.
a. Readers like the feel confident in their favorite characters.
b. Do your research properly so it is believable.
c. If possible, set up a one-on-one with a real-life expert in that field to talk to about it.
5. Allow your main character(s) to treat their pets well, show respect to the elderly or show kindness to kids or have fun with kids.
a. For the animal and pet lovers, they will appreciate the warm relationship between the character and their pet(s). If you make your character hate animals and do bad things to them, you’re going to turn a lot of people off, except if that is your intent.
b. And unless the elderly person is a real crab or creep, treat them respectfully by your “good guys”. Have them treat them the way you want someone to treat your parents (assuming you don’t hate your parents either – which is another conversation all together).
c. Little hint: Even if you don’t have kids or particularly really like them much, pretend. It’s a fictional book after all, suck it up and do the right thing – for your audience. No one needs to know you dislike kids.
6. If there is any way for your character to be the underdog, it will endear your reader to them.
a. Readers tend to like the stories about overcoming the odds or overcoming obstacles.
b. Examples of an underdog include:
i. They were an unwanted or unloved child
ii. They were the ugly duckling
iii. They have a mental or physical handicap of some kind
iv. They are from a poor family (not raised with wealth or inherited great wealth)
v. They live in an underdeveloped, underprivileged area (Examples: ghetto, red neck hick country with poor education, third world country)
7. Allow your main character(s) to experience a relatable misfortunate event.
a. The readers will start to develop sympathy with your character because they may have experienced something similar or know someone who has. If they can relate to your character, they will grow to like them and/or sympathize with them.
b. Some examples of common struggles a reader might identify with but are often overused, so be careful. Try to find your own unique but relatable events:
i. Loss of a loved one
ii. Unrequited love
iii. They catch their significant other cheating
iv. They lose their job to unfair circumstances
v. Their kids got mixed up with the wrong crowd and got into troublevi. They went to Hogwarts :-}