One of the hardest critiques (but one of the most necessary ones to hear) is that a reader doesn’t connect to your character. I’ve had this happen a few times and it devastated me. Like a stop writing and question every life choice that has led me to this point level of devastation.
This is by no means a definitive reference, but just five of the steps that I follow when creating my characters. Bear in mind, I write contemporary romance. Saccharine sweet HEA type contemporary romance with no social, moral, or political implications that rock your core or inspire you to greatness or stick with you long after you’re done reading or anything else that fabulous books do. These are entertaining works, pure and simple. And my characters follow suit.
However, the genre doesn’t matter because connection is a need for all stories. These are some steps I personally take and have found incredibly helpful to link my readers to my people. Do they always work? Nope. But they’ve proven a good springboard for me.
1. Give them a quirk. I will shamelessly admit that my characters get a lot of my… issues. In one way or another. There is a lot of projecting going on over here. I have one who bites the side of her thumb when she is nervous/anxious. Another who fidgets with her fingers/hands in a covert way only her significant other noticed. And one of my favorite people stutters in the presence of his love. It’s precious. But it gives the reader something to identify with/relate to which builds their connectivity ability.
2. Avoid perfection. I know, I know, we have Prince Charming drilled into our minds from birth with fairy tales and TV shows… but we are all grown up now, yeah? We know there is no such thing as perfect and, let’s be honest, who wants that? This is especially a trap in romance where billionaire doctor/lawyer/computer geniuses (like all that in one character) have model good looks and sweep the female lead off her feet with over the top romantic dates and even though he used to be a playboy all of that has changed and he’s become an ideal boyfriend simply because their eyes met and… you get my point. They need flaws. Perfect is boring. Maybe he has OCD. Maybe she is forgetful. Play with it, just make sure its an acceptable flaw. If your MC is a kitten kicking wife beater there is zero chance he can be redeemed in the eyes of your reader so be realistic.
3. Give your antagonist a redemptive quality. Yep, on the flip side of making your protagonist flawed, you need to make the bad guy somewhat likable. Do they have a tragic back story that makes them slightly sympathetic? Or perhaps they have a penchant for rescuing stray animals. Connecting does not mean liking. It is simply being able to have clarity of their motivation and – perhaps – some empathy. There is something delicious about creating internal conflict in the reader when it comes to your antagonist.
4. Let’s chill with the made up names. I love and adore unique names. And making a mash-up of a few “normal” ones to create something fun and fresh can be great BUT if I have no idea how to pronounce your character’s name that is going to impede my ability to connect to them. I get the need for the unusual in fantasy/sci-fi stories but PLEASE have some sympathy on your readers and at least make it moderately easy to understand the pronunciation of the name in written format.
5. Character design pages. Interviews and personality sheets can be a great way to get into the mind of your people on a deep level to facilitate your own connection with them and, hopefully, help pass that on to the reader. You can learn a lot of the aforementioned details by spending the time in their head required to get all of these details. Pinterest is a fabulous resource for these. Now, be warned, if you are a pantser like me… *deep inhale*… this is a lot like plotting. But it’ll be okay. You can still do this. I promise you won’t break out in hives or require oxygen.
Now, go cuddle with your characters, delve into their psyches, and offer your readers someone that they can love as much as you do.