Just Contempt

Has this ever happened to you?

I read continuously. Sometimes two books at a time. This past week I took my grandsons to the library and even though I have hundreds of books sitting in my office and on my kindle that I’ve not read yet, I had to have another world to step into.  I picked up a book by an author who I recently heard of but never read before and dove in. That evening, after reading twenty odd pages, I closed the book and went to sleep, thinking it’s the beginning. It’ll get better. The author is a NYT best selling author. The book was edited and published by one of the big five houses. One of the two publishers I’d always dreamt of being part of their stable of authors. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

After reading a third of the book, because I was really trying to give this author a chance, I went on-line and read the reviews for this story and was amazed that the majority of reviewers, like seventy-five percent of the people reviewing the story, felt the same way I did about the characters. We didn’t feel anything. Well, maybe contempt for taking up our value time.

I continued to read, skipping paragraphs at first and then pages, looking for some reason to like the characters and continued on, (I’m a determined Scorpio after all), but there was only more whining from the heroine and more one-track sexist thoughts from the hero. This was a suspense for goodness sakes. What about the murderer still at large?  What about some thought about saving lives? Other characters were dying.

At a little over the halfway point, I stopped.  Feeling totally disappointed and annoyed, I closed the book.  I was glad I hadn’t spent money on this book. Will I read this author’s work again? I’m honestly not sure. This wasn’t her first book. It was like her twelfth. If it had been her debut book, then I’d probably give her a second chance to win my loyalty.

I then picked up a book from my TBR pile. One that I’ve been meaning to read for years.  A classic time travel published in the nineteen seventies and within twenty pages I was intrigued by the main characters and the possibility of the plot. I even chuckled at a line. I’m totally enjoying it.

Stories are about people and what happens to them. And for readers to enjoy the story, they MUST connect with the characters. It’s that simple.  It doesn’t matter if the main character is an archeological professor in the 1940’s searching for treasures or an old man on a boat or the widow who inherits a football team.  Readers must like or become invested in them immediately. In order for you, the author, to pull this off, you must know your characters.

There is no right way or wrong way or one way to accomplish this.  My way is to first scan pictures and find physical forms for my characters. It’s easier for me to have conversations with them knowing what they look like. Then I figure out one trait about them my readers will admire and one thing that will connect the character with a large portion of readers by way of relation or sympathy (goals).  Why did I say large portion and not all? Because in the realm of things, humans have very few universal similarities. We all need air, food and water to live. We all have a lineage; ancestors but some of us could care less about our pasts.  Most humans need human connection, but there are those who do not. All of us believe in something, even if it’s not to believe in anything.  A majority of people want to help other humans and or other life forms, but again, there are those who could care less. None of us have live through the all same experiences. We are unique but we do still connect.

After I have those three character’s features, I begin to write my story.  At this point, I don’t know everything about my characters– I’m a hybrid pantser/plotter—but I begin to write the moment when their lives change. As I put them into situations they reveal their innermost desires and fears to me and usually by the black moment I know them like I know myself. During revisions, layering in everything I’ve learned in unique ways is a challenge, but so much fun and so rewarding.

How do you develop a character that readers will love?

Or tell us, why a particular favorite character stands out in your memory? How did the author connect you with him or her?


16 responses to “Just Contempt”

  1. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    It important to have the character’s goals and motivations in mind when developing them. To help me (pantser, here), I also focus on and exploit a personality flaw or a unique trait, physical or otherwise. Then as I get to know better, I go back and layer in key details.

    Great post, Autumn!

  2. I’m with Jen, I have to know the big goal for my character first and then from there I flesh them out. Great post. It takes one thing to connect me as a reader to the MC and sadly that doesn’t always happen. DNF and move on, time travel is a great way to do that 😉

  3. Rita Henuber says:

    For me it’s knowing my character completely. If I don’t know them how will I know how they react to a situation? I believe it isn’t so much what happens to a character but how they react. How they deal. I dig into my characters back story until I know everything about them.

    • You know you’re my mentor when it comes to digging in the my characters’ psyche. Why is a little word, but it has so much power to reveal the truth. Love that you push me to know more.

  4. Great post, Autumn! I used to finish every book I started, simply because that’s my personality. I didn’t like setting a book aside. As I get older, I have no qualms about setting something aside. Too many other things to do. So yeah, the characters have to grab me and make me care right away. 😉

  5. I love this! Michael Hauge has a great talk on story openings, but it focuses very much on how to get your readers to connect with your main characters. I learned a lot from that talk and use his suggestions liberally.

    We want to create empathy in our readers first and foremost. The whole point of writing a story is to make your reader care about your characters. Otherwise, what’s the point? Why would anyone waste hours of their time reading about characters they just don’t care about?

    Great post, Di!

    • You know I’m a fan of Michael. I too learned so much from him and will be forever grateful. Connection between the reader and character has to happen immediately, IMHO, if not they will move on.

      We do so much to be notice by readers, so why throw time and dollars away doing so, if we can’t make that connection for them?

  6. The characters are what bring me back to my favorite authors again and again. Kristan Higgins, Nalini Singh, Sarah MacLean, Marisa De Los Santos… those ladies are all masters of characterization – until they stop feeling like characters and simply feel like people. That’s the trick for me. When they feel REAL.

    • You nailed it Vivi. Characters must become someone our readers feel is the guy or girl next door. When they are so real, you know you’ve done your job as an author.

  7. Addison Fox says:

    What a wonderful post, AJ!!! It is ALL about the characters – what happens to them is the fascinating wrapper that drives the story forward. But it’s those characters we read for.

    Great post!!!

  8. Burma Powell says:

    So true! When I’m reading I find that I can separate the wheat from the chaff pretty quickly. I’ve found that even celebrated authors can produce stale work after many best sellers, when they begin to rest on their laurels. As for knowing my characters intimately, I’ve found that they reveal themselves over time, and the plot develops as they get to know each other. As you can tell, I have only minimal control over where they go. They reside in my computer and are quite resistant to outside pressure, so I stand back and let them do their “thing”.

    • Watching them and getting to know them is so exciting, isn’t it? I love learning things about them as the story moves forward. Sometimes things come out of left field and smacks me. I didn’t realize they felt the way they did, but then they didn’t reveal that feeling until they were placed in a certain situation. love, love when that happens.

      Thank you for commenting today.


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