Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Creating a Connection with Characters

Recently, a depressed writer friend approached me about her young adult novel. She'd been slaving over it for almost a year, nurturing it into a strong piece of work fit for an agent to claim. The back story had been trimmed up, there was lots of showing versus telling, and she'd cut all the grammer no-no's we writers have been told are naughty things. Her query letter was awesome and two agents requested to see her full manuscript right away.

Sounds like smooth sailing right? Not quite...

See, my friend came to me really upset because one of the agents had passed on the novel. Now if you've been writing or researching the craft of writing, you know that rejection is what you get about 95% of the time. So I told my friend, "Hey, sorry, but you need to toughen up. Rejection is the name of the game."

Then she told me she wasn't really upset about being rejected. It was why she was rejected that bugged her. The agent was extremely complimentary, saying that my friend's work was better than most of the stuff that crosses her desk! She loved the premise and thought the writing was strong, but alas, she didn't connect with the main character. Naturally, my friend freaked out about that because her novel is written in first person through the eyes of that main character.

What should she do? Re-write the whole thing? Scrap the first person? How should she make the connection?

Those are good questions to ponder. After careful consideration, I told her to leave it alone. After all, it is just one person's opinion. Now if she gets the same response repeatedly, then yes, it's probably wise to go back and re-look at things. But for now, holding off on big changes seems the wise choice.

I thought back to several popular books I'd read recently. Truthfully, I didn't always make the connection with the character in some of those. Take the Twilight series. While I think those books are interesting, I don't have much of a connection with Bella Swan. She's too mousy, too reliant on Edward for my taste, and I could never figure out why she picked the cold guy over the warm guy. (Then again, I really hate to be cold so that may have influenced by opinion.) I only finished the series because as a young adult writer I think it's important to read what's selling and support other authors. On the other hand, I read The Hunger Games series and felt very connected to Katniss Everdeen. She explemfied the strong characters I love to read about and always wanted to be as a young adult.

When it comes down to a reader connecting with a character, as a writer I understand that it's important. Your book won't sell if someone doesn't connect with it. On the other hand, this is an incredibly subjective business and not everyone will make a connection. What's important is not to give up on your character!

Any thoughts?


  1. There are ever so many books with characters I don't connect to. Plots I don't connect to. Settings I don't connect to. But an agent connected, and an editor connected, and readers are connecting.

    If one agent expressed concern about the depressed writer's character, but was complimentary about the rest, it seems the writer should re-read the positive comments (and perhaps reduce her depression) and keep submitting. She needs more evidence before making radical changes.

  2. I agree and that's basically what I told her. Writing is so subjective. I submitted my novel, Nephilim, a million times before it found a home.