I have the privilege to work with writers and authors. Some are new clients, and relatively new to the concept of editing for publication. All have talent, good strong voices, and a passion for their topic or novel theme. This is a super way to get started from my perspective as their coach and editor.
Let’s chat a moment about what it takes to make your reader care about your novel. Why should they invest their money to buy it? Or their time to read it? Or once they open it, why should they stay with it to The End? Why should they recommend it to their friends?
In most cases this is because the reader cares about the character. And, whether we use laughter, tears, or fear, we must create a conflict or situation that the reader can relate to, and cares enough to see how–or if–our character(s) can get out of it.
Let’s look at TV for a second to illustrate this. The conflict between many sitcom characters is showcased by rivalry. In dramatic series, take a CSI or maybe NCIS, viewers are hooked to see how the mystery is solved. The conflict here? The investigator vs the criminal. Good vs. evil, maybe. But we don’t even care about that, if we don’t care about the characters. Today’s fast pace just makes time too precious a commodity.
Rivalry – To build this conflict, rivalries can be developed. One character will be genious but afraid of his shadow while the other will be brave almost to the point of being a bit stupid, but those differing strengths and weaknesses will endear them to us, and highlight them as individuals. They may be competing to show up the other one, but when push comes to shove, they’ll be there for each other. Many of us have or have had siblings. We know where all that comes from. This can be done very effectively with humor. Stephanie Plum’s courageious ineptitude contrasts to Joe and Ranger’s extreme efficiency and makes for great entertainment.
Change in Social Status – Another way to showcase challenges is through drama. The wealthy heiress wakes up one morning to find herself completely penniless. Or, the prostitute ends up getting married to the millionaire. Many of us may not be able to relate to being an heiress (or a prostitute,) but most of us can relate to struggling financially to some degree. We all want security and love, so we can relate to the struggles of the characters.
Dramatic Differences – Juxtapose your character’s goals and desires. While one wants world peace, maybe the other is a career soldier. On the surface, that would seem to be a direct conflict, but it may not be, at least by the end of your story arc. The very male by-the-book cop gets partnered with one who goes totally by her gut and cares very little for the rules.
Torture Is Required – To make this REALLY work, you MUST be willing to really torture your protagonist. You can do it dramatically or comically, but you have to do it or your manuscript will not have enough zip to keep your reader’s attention. Indiana Jones HAD to end up in a pit full of vipers – he HATED snakes. Claustrophics always end up in a closet, a coffin or the truck of a car. Can’t you just feel your heart racing? In a romance, a pivotal, critical element is known as the Black Moment. This is where just as the hero and heroine are about to resolve their differences, one or both are torn away to face something absolutely insurmountable. In every genre, this element is required to make the book memorable. Remember, you want people not only to read it, but to TALK about it.
Whatever they hate – Does your protagonist completely loath her adversary? Then they have to spend time together. And I don’t mean comfortable time. Time that requires them to work together and scheme together in order to survive perhaps. Or, like Two Working Girls – their conflict is that waitressing does not look anything like their dreams, but they have to do it anyway. Along the way, comedy is employed to keep up with their daily struggles and their lessons learned. They make us laugh, so we watch them. Some of us can relate to them or their emotional situation, so we watch them. We hope that they will stick with it until their big break comes along, but we aren’t focused on their big break. We like them in the here and now.
Readers relate to our characters in exactly the same way. When building your scenes, chapters and plots, remember that conflict, unlike backstory, is NOT a condiment, it is a building block.
Until Sunday, keep writing and reading!