How is it Done?

I have a question for all of you readers, writers, and TV-watchers out there. What is it, do you think, that makes you actually care about a character?

I ask, because I recently finished a book, and realized that I have little curiosity to see what happens to the characters in the sequel. The book was written well enough. The pacing was good. There was a definite problem that needed solving. But in the end, I didn’t have any particular attachment to any of the characters.

How is it that some books and movies immediately make you sympathize with the characters, while others leave you shrugging? I’m going to reference Harry Potter here, because it’s a great example of a story in which each character has a very distinct personality. There are no 2D characters in the Harry Potter series. I cared about them all, and that’s why I stuck with them for seven books. Not only did I care about the dream team, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but I also cared about the professors, the Dursley’s, and the entire Quidditch team. How, I must ask, is it done?

When I write, I would like readers to wonder what happens next. What are your thoughts? Any suggestions?

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6 comments

  1. I think the main problem I have is when people write their characters as a kind of stereotype or around one personality feature. People are complicated. They are not perfect. Good and evil is subjective. I think to write a good story you have to remember that – let’s take J K Rowling for example. I get the impression she thinks through the motivation behind each one of her characters and sees the plot from their point of view, however ‘insignificant’ it might be. That’s why (in my opinion) it works so well!

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    • That’s so true. I think that “gray-area characters” are infinitely more interesting than someone that is just “all good” or “all bad.” Flawed characters are much more interesting to read about.

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  2. Definitely a good question to ask! I actually never really thought about it. Why do I care about the characters I read? If you consider our obsession with some these fictional charcters, it is kind of strange to care about a “fake,” imaginery person…I mean, they’re not realistic, so…why do we love them so much and want them to live happily ever after (as cheesy as that may sound)??

    I believe that it is because of our ability to empathize with others, the ability to feel sympathy and imagine ourselves in the place or situation of another. You see, I don’t think animals have this ability, only humans can do this, so we are more susceptible to imagining ourselves as someone else. Of course, we also must make some connection to the character, otherwise there’s no way we would put ourselves in the situation fictional characters put themselves through. I think this explains why some people would shrug if Edward from Twilight dies (sorry, Twilight fans!!), and why some people would cry and become fairly upset.

    SO~ In answer to your question, I think that it’s our ability to make connections and attachments. It sounds really simple, but it’s a really complicated process (at least from my perspective). When we are relating to the character and FEELing for the character, we are bonding with the character, so we then care. I find myself doing this especially with books, where I can often find similarities between the main character and myself or I just love the character’s personality. It really depends on how you make connections (this is where the complicated part comes into play, I think.), and everyone is obviously different, explaining why we care deeply (or not) about some fictional characters more than others.

    One suggestion I would make is to perhaps find similarities between yourself and the main protagonist. Or maybe ask yourself about the personalities of these characters and whether or not you like their ideals and things of that nature. I hope these offer some assistance, and I know it’s difficult sometimes to love a character completely different from oneself. I think it helps, though, when you are able to develop a relationship with the characters of the book (I know! It sounds like you’re making friends or something, but that’s the way I see it. You always care about a friend, right? At least, I hope so!!).

    Good luck!

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    • Thanks for your response! Oddly enough, I think sometimes I “feel” more for characters that I don’t think I’d get along with in real life. Maybe because in real life, you can’t walk around inside of someone else’s head. In fiction, you can.

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