By Kristen Kieffer
We want readers to connect with our characters, to step inside their shoes and invest in their journeys.
But creating that easy connection between reader and character isn’t always a clear-cut process. Do our characters need to be, in some way, relatable for readers to connect with their stories? In my opinion, yes, but perhaps not in the way you might think.
Today, writer, let’s cut through the chaos and get straight to the point. If you want to encourage readers to invest in your characters’ journeys, here are two key tips you don’t want to miss!
Do characters truly need to be relatable?
Whether your character is a noble-hearted everyman, a thieving anti-hero, or a mustache-twirling villain who’s somehow managed to snag the spotlight, if you want readers to invest in their journeys, your characters need to be relatable. Yes, even the most morally-bankrupt of characters requires a shred of humanity if you want readers to buy into their stories.
And that is exactly what makes a character relatable: their humanity.
Forging the reader-character connection is all about encouraging readers to empathize with your characters in some way. For readers to extend empathy, they must recognize the humanity in your characters’ experiences or circumstances. In doing so, they’ll come to understand your character’s actions — even if they aren’t always to be admired — and to care about their fates.
With that established, one question remains: How can we craft characters with whom readers can empathize?
Two Tips for Crafting Relatable Characters
There will always be readers who won’t like your stories, who find your characters bland or insufferable and so choose not to lose themselves in the pages of your book. This is okay. In fact, it’s something all writers should keep in mind as they work to intentionally create connection between their readers and characters.
Above all else, writers should focus on connecting with their ideal readers. Sometimes, that reader is themselves — or some version of themselves. Other times, that reader is their child, their best friend, their mother, their coworker, or that stranger they met on the street last week.
Whatever the case, focusing on crafting characters whom your ideal reader is likely to find relatable is key to casting the hook that will keep those same readers — the ones who are most likely to champion your book — invested in your story. For more information on defining your ideal reader, here’s a link to our breakdown.
Now, with your story’s ideal reader in mind, here are my top two tips for crafting relatable characters whose stories your readers will jump at the chance to adore:
TIP #1: ESTABLISH A RELATABLE THEME.
Theme, you ask? What does theme have to do with crafting characters or creating connections with readers? In truth, quite a bit!
Themes are merely topics that stories explore. As it happens, your character’s journey likely centers around a specific theme (or two!), whether or not you’ve consciously built that theme into your story. Need a few examples?
Common themes include grief, identity, adventure, power, love, and loss — among others. Subsequently, each of these themes represents the foundation of a near-universal human experience: a coming-of-age story, a first love, the loss of a loved one, the struggle to find agency or self-worth, and so on.
Simply put, themes are human. Relatable. And by choosing to consciously build your characters’ stories around themes your ideal readers have likely experienced for themselves, you increase the chances that those same readers will come to empathize with your characters and invest in their journeys.