In my last blog I had a small rant about grunting tennis players one of whom irritated me so much I had to turn off the TV. Have you ever given up on a fiction story because you simply didn’t warm to the lead character, or give a damn what happened to them? I know I have! That’s why it’s so important for writers to ensure that their readers can identify with the characters and sufficiently engage with them to want to know more. They don’t necessarily have to like them but must at least feel some empathy.
So how do you approach this? Think about the genre in which you’re writing. Is it romance, crime, science fiction, fantasy? Then consider what type of characters you most admire in those genres. What is it about them that arouses your interest? Now look at your own characters. What qualities and endearing traits do they have that make them appeal to your readers? They don’t have to be perfect – by all means give them flaws as well. But make those flaws something that the reader can identify with and even forgive: maybe they open their big mouths sometimes without thinking and then regret it (haven’t we all done that?). As well as giving your good guys some flaws, remember to give the bad guys some redeeming features too; otherwise they might come across as shallow, pantomime villains – remember even Al Capone loved his mother!
In my novel, White Van Man, Martin Blake has led a sheltered and protected life; until he’s made redundant from the bank and is plunged into a very different environment. He isn’t particularly worldly-wise and, in his innocence, may even seem a bit naïve and hapless. Even so, he’s a loyal, caring and loving father, unafraid to make a decision and stubbornly stick with it, even when he sometimes realises he’s made a mistake. He’s very real to me and I’ve come to know him pretty well during the writing of the book: I know I’d like him as a friend and I just hope I’ve portrayed him in a way that makes the reader feel the same.
And as for those grunting tennis players – well maybe if I knew a little more about them – say they’d pulled a muscle just before the game and it actually hurt them to hit each ball – knowing that might just have prepared me to give a little more leeway…