One of the best parts of being a reader is living through tons of different characters without ever leaving your seat. You might not be a princess on the run or a teen selected to fight for your district, but as long as you can find some common emotional ground with a character, you can embody thousands of different roles and perspectives. So how do authors make these wildly unusual characters so darn relatable while keeping their stories fresh and interesting? In this post, Casey Griffin, author of SECRETS OF A RELUCTANT PRINCESS, explains how to find the perfect balance to make strong, independent heroines relatable to a variety of readers.
Have you ever read a book about someone standing in front of their closet trying to choose their outfit or pouring their bowl of cereal? Have you heard about the bestseller where the main character goes grocery shopping? I doubt it.
We don’t want to read a story that sounds like our average day. We want to read about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. And yet, if they don’t feel the same things that average people do, share the same hopes, dreams, and fears, how are we supposed to connect with them? How do you find a balance between creating a strong hero or heroine and having them struggle with something very ordinary?
- Take it to the next level: In SECRETS OF A RELUCTANT PRINCESS, Andy just wants to be liked. Seems pretty basic, right? We all want to be liked, and I think that’s why we can relate to her. Now add some layers to make it extraordinary. Through the story, we learn why she’s so driven by her desire to be liked: she was teased relentlessly at her old school. By learning about her experiences, that “normal” desire to be liked that we can all relate to suddenly grows with importance. We’re rooting for her to make friends.
- Push the character farther: We all have barriers to getting what we want in life, hiccups along the way. But if a character’s story is going to be interesting, they can’t just be mere hiccups to overcome. They should be earthquakes that turn their lives upside down. What starts as Andy’s simple hope to make friends is complicated exponentially by a series of events and situations like an embarrassing family toilet business, her own tragically embarrassing awkwardness, and the fact that now all her mistakes are aired on national television on the latest reality TV show, "Bathroom Barons."
- The character must struggle to find the answer: So we all know the answer is “always be yourself.” You don’t lie or pretend to be something you’re not. Obvs --- right? But in practice, doing what’s right isn’t always easy at the best of times. I’m sure we can all think of a time that we didn’t make the right choice, maybe to look cooler or to fit in. But for a hero or heroine, it should never be “the best of times.” Their decision must be critical, and at the same time, there must be so much emotional conflict thrown at them that the right answer is that much harder to see.
- Show what they’re made of: When everything seems to come to a head and things blow up in the character’s face, this is where they show what they’re really made of. This is what differentiates them from your average person. It started with something us “normal” people might face (not that I think I’m normal) and it’s become exponentially more difficult for your character, and in turn, that much more heroic when they overcome it. Where others might fall, they must rise. Their reaction and how they deal with adversity separates them from average. This is where they must prove why they are the hero or heroine of the story.
If we don’t connect with the character, why would we want to read their story? Why should we care? Their story should have a human connection, something anyone can relate to, so no matter how crazy their story gets or how for they’re pushed, we’ll want to follow along and root for them.