I want you to think in terms of a movie and the actors who play in them (we all see a movie every now and then, even if it’s from the comfort of our own living room), and imagine this:
You see a trailer/commercial for a new movie. It looks like something you’ll enjoy, so, you invest twenty bucks (maybe less) and an evening of your time.
The outcome: The director did fine with what he/she had to work with. The plot was unique and could have been interesting if only the dialogue and acting would have been believable. If only you would have felt some kind of connection with the characters. An hour in, you’re bored, your popcorn (or snack of choice) and drink are a memory, and you’ve already determined this movie will not be. Maybe you stay with it until the end, and that’s only because you know you aren’t getting that twenty bucks back, and your evening is already shot. Or maybe you salvage what’s left of your evening by going home (or staying put if you’re already there) and turning on reruns of one of your favorite sitcoms. Either way, I doubt you’ll be recommending this movie to your friends.
Now, think about all the books you’ve read and ask yourself: Which are your favorites and why? Think about the stories you’ve read and ask yourself: Which have been the most memorable and why?
I’ll bet the answer to both those questions has a lot to do with, if not the main character, a prominent one. The plot is, of course, important as well, but if at least one of the prominent characters doesn’t pull at you, you’re more than likely going to put that book down before reaching the end, and you’re not going to be recommending it as a “must read” to your pals.
So, how do you create a memorable/likeable/believable character your readers will want to get to know?
For starters, make your characters real. I can’t stress this enough. Give your readers something to connect to. Your readers should either see something in themselves in the character or something that reminds them of someone they know. And I’m not talking about a physical trait. No one’s perfect and your characters shouldn’t be either. So what’s your character’s flaw?
Also, what’s your character’s motivation? We all have one for everything we do, whether it’s simply eating because we’re hungry or getting dressed because, hey, going around naked in public is illegal. Be sure your characters have a purpose for being in the story in the first place, and that their motivation is clear, even if that motivation makes no sense at all.
And just as important, draw on your character’s emotions, and you’ll draw on the readers’ emotions as well. Whether you’re creating a sympathetic character, one to be admired, or one to be reviled, make sure you give your readers what they need to see your characters as you see them.