Common Writing Mistake: Presenting Strangers When We Wanted Friends

Here's a harsh publishing reality: the reader does not have to care about your book.

Yes, it's your book.  Your brain child.  The thing you spent hours on every day for years trying to perfect.  But you know what?  There are millions and millions and millions of books out there.  If your goal is to sell this brain child then it is now your job as the author to make the reader care about your book.

The best books are the ones that trigger an emotional response in the reader.  This is a tough pill to swallow because of said mentioned reasons.  You as the author already have an emotional response to the book because you are invested in it.  But when someone reads your story for the first time every single character is a stranger.  The goal is to turn those strangers into friends.

"Well, if they get through the whole story then of course the reader will be friends with my characters!"

Not true.

Consider a news article about a horrible freak accident.  You may read the entire article to get all the details.  You may feel bad for the people involved.  But if you are reading about strangers then the article will not have the same kind of impact on you than, say, getting a call that a loved one has passed away in his sleep.  You are emotionally invested in your family member.  You were not emotionally invested in the story about the strangers, despite the accident being a more interesting story.

This is a grim example but I think it very correctly illustrates the issue.  Presenting an interesting story is not enough.  If the reader does not care if the bad guys get taken down and if the good guys save the day then you still have work to do as an author.

So how do the characters become friends?

There are lots of ways to accomplish this but I think the best one to keep in mind is to make each character's motivation clear.  You must constantly answer the question "why?"  Good guy wants to take down the bad guy... why?  Bad guy needs to be stopped... why?

The "whys" give the reader something to connect with and form an attachment.  Bad guy killed good guy's entire family and made him watch?  Ok, now we have a very good reason for wanting to see bad guy brought to justice.  By just knowing that simple fact it makes me want to see the good guy win.


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