Tuesday, June 30, 2015

21 The Secret to Creating a Connection Between Readers and Characters Plus a MAZE RUNNER Collector's Edition Giveaway


The lovely Angela Ackerman wrote a brilliant post last week about characters with secrets, and she was kind enough to mention Compulsion in it. The got me thinking about why both readers and writers love secrets, and it led me to an epiphany that's going to change how I approach character development.

I'm starting a new book outside of the trilogy. A brand new book with brand new characters. Isn't that bizarre? This week, I turned in the final book of the trilogy. I'm trying to spend my days not hyperventilating while I wait for my agent and editor to chime in. It's such a bittersweet moment. I'm done, but I'm also done. I'm going to miss this world and these characters. I know them so well. I know their secrets, their hopes, their fears, their vulnerabilities.

That's the key. Secrets make us vulnerable. The people who know our secrets are the ones who hold our sense of self-worth, our relationships, our very futures, in their hands. But the people who know our  vulnerabilities and handle them with care, the people who see the ugliness in us and like us anyway, those are the people who come to care about us. Those are our friends.

A reader can forgive a character almost anything as long as they understand why that character did what she did. They want to see the character be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is what creates connection. So how do you use that to create a riveting character?

Finding the Courage to Be Vulnerable

To create vulnerability in our characters, we first have to acknowledge the vulnerability in ourselves. Becoming an author is all about finding the courage to explore vulnerability. We're naturally resistant to that.

  • When we first start writing, we tend to create perfect Mary Sue characters who have no dark, ugly sides, no selfishness, no tempers, no jealousy, no bad traits or habits.
  • When we finish our early manuscripts, we want to believe they have no vulnerabilities, no plot holes, flabby prose, two-dimensional characters, weak settings.
  • When we finally realize maybe our manuscripts could stand a bit of improvement, we find a critique group, but we don't always want to really listen to what our critique partners want to say. We'd rather not be vulnerable to constructive criticism, so we leave ourselves no room to grow.
  • When we finally figure out that no writer can see their own manuscript clearly, and that no writer writes a perfect manuscript, we roll up our sleeves, and we finally pour everything we have into the manuscript we're working on. And then we hit send on the queries or submissions, and that's an incredibly vulnerable moment. We're literally exposing ourselves to rejection.
  • When we finally get an agent, after many weeks, or months, or years--and possibly/probably many manuscripts--we think we're over the worst part, but then there are revisions, and the submission process, and getting editor rejections. A whole new level of vulnerability.
  • And once the book is published, there's a whole new potential round of rejections by reviewers and readers, and that's very public, and there's nothing more vulnerable than that.
Why did I just tell you all that? Because the one thing that all that vulnerability builds is the ability for all authors to connect with each other around the process of being vulnerable. We've all been there.

And I think that teaches us something about vulnerability that we take to our next manuscripts. We protect our characters less. We let the reader see the ugliness that hides underneath. And nine times out of ten, I think our readers love the characters more for that, or at least they understand them better.

Lack of Connection Is One of the Most Common Reasons for Rejection


One of the common things an agent or an editor might say when passing on a manuscript is that they didn't feel a connection to the main character. Readers might not feel a connection to the characters either, and that may cause the to like a character but not love them.

Not all characters can be lovable at the beginning of a book. Some don't want to open up, or they, like my Barrie, might have a steep character arc, but there has to be something for readers to hold on to. You have to give the reader a way into the character.

Courage, Fortitude and Perseverance


To quote BrenĂ© Brown:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences -- good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as "ordinary courage.”

The other aspects of courage are perseverance and fortitude, at least according to Plato and Thomas Aquinas. Thinking about this with respect to characters we create as writers, I believe this means that our heroic characters need to:
  • Have weaknesses that they either see or fear to expose
  • Reveal those weaknesses to the reader and to at least one other character
  • Face something that requires them to confront those weaknesses and persevere as they struggle because of those weaknesses
  • Have the courage to continue struggling, because something matters more to them then their own self-image, comfort, or life as they know it.
  • Have the fortitude to continue the fight when others would give up
And as a final thought, villains can be heroic in their own ways. They are the heroes of their own stories, after all, so many of the above conditions should apply to them. Villains have to be at least as compelling, at least as strong, at least as daring as our heroes.

What Do You Think?

What connects you to your favorite characters? To your friends? To people you admire?

Do you feel closer to them once you learn their vulnerabilities and secrets?

This Week's Giveaway


THE MAZE RUNNER COLLECTOR'S EDITION
by James Dasher
Paperback
Released April 15, 2015
Delacorte Press

Get lost in the thrilling action and twisting plotlines of James Dashner’s #1 New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series. Read the first two books—The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials—discover lost files from the offices of WICKED, and learn forgotten Glader memories in this collectible edition. 

Remember. Survive. Run. 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

21 comments:

  1. I feel really connected when I read about people crying. I don't know, it feels intimate.

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    1. Good point. I think there's a quote from Walt Disney that says there should be a tear for every laugh. It's visceral, and yes, shows characters at their most vulnerable.

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  2. I connect with a character when she shows me a piece of her heart or a wound from the past that she works hard to protect.

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    1. Yes! Me too! That's a great way to put it. : )

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  3. It's so emotionally draining to really write the raw emotions. But it's such a rewarding feeling!

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    1. That's true! How often do you pepper those into your work though? I think it's emotionally draining for a reader to read the really raw scenes too often, so we have to be mindful of that as writers too. Emotion is hard work : )

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  4. how they're written

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    1. Good point, and true for just about everything!

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  5. CONGRATS on turning in your last book in the trilogy! and starting a brand new book--how exciting.

    Interestingly, I find myself NOT connecting to characters when they cry; sometimes it distances me. Yep, I'm weird. Maybe it depends on how much I'm identifying with them in the first place. I'm drawn to characters with integrity, who power through situations even when it's difficult or risky or frightening.

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    1. Thanks, Carol. Hmmh. Interesting. Does that apply if they power through but cry anyway? For me, I don't connect necessarily when the characters cry, but when they have reason to cry, and I know what that reason is and why it gets to them so deeply.

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  6. the way you feel with them in the room.... anxious or calm for instance

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    1. That's interesting. I play with the idea of energy in the Watson Island series -- more and more in each book, and I actually use this description in book three at one point. I love this!

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  7. I really connect with characters who face danger bravely. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Me too. I guess I'd like to think I'd be brave when facing a dangerous situation. :)

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  8. Nicole WetheringtonJuly 1, 2015 at 9:37 PM

    I can connect with a character when I feel that they are showing genuine emotions for situations they go through and act accordingly.

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    1. That's a good point. Any emotions have to feel real, right? That makes perfect sense. And I think that to feel that the emotions are warranted, we probably have to understand them.

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  9. I feel connected with a character when I understand a character. It may work better if he/she has something in common with me (even a random quirk) or is encountering a known situation (maybe liking to a thing, or common fear).

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    1. A universal fear or feeling is a great point! It ties very well to what Stacie said below as well, and it's something that many writers forget. Twilight isn't as much about being afraid to fall in love with a vampire, it's about having the courage to fall in love and make yourself vulnerable to something much more powerful than yourself.

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  10. Thanks for a great post! I feel connected to a character when I can see myself in them. When they share a character trait that I admire in myself of have been through a similar situation. Even though I've never confronted vampires before I have confronted the strong emotions of teenage love which helped me relate to Bella in Twilight. I also agree with others that it helps to see a character at his/her lowest and then join them on their adventure to rebuild themselves.

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    1. I love the way you put that, Stacie. Ultimately, the books that show characters rebuilding themselves are my favorite ones. It's always at least as much about character as about plot for me!

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  11. Loneliness makes me connect with a character.

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