Wednesday, August 31, 2011

C is for Connecting to Readers

What makes you want to keep reading? Often, you feel a connection to a main character and his story so you care about what happens to him. How can writers create that connection?

Give your character a personality. A strong main character can often make me stick with a story, even if I don’t like what’s happening or the writing style. Notice that a strong character doesn’t have to be likeable, though I think 8- to 12-year-olds relate better to a character that has at least a few likeable qualities. But there has to be some reason why I want to see what happens to them, why I care to read their story. Sometimes, the reason might be simply that I see the character has the potential to change and I want to see if she does.

Use character voice. When the viewpoint character has a unique voice, it helps to create a sense that the character is real. But I think it’s important not to try too hard to play up the voice, because you can end up with forced writing that sounds like an adult trying to be a kid. Instead, tap into the character by getting to know them. Construct your character in the reader’s mind through showing how he acts and how he thinks. That’s when the character’s voice will emerge.

Add some shared interests. One of the reasons why you connect well with friends is because you have something to share—the same school, the same life goals, the same hobbies or interests. That's a good starting point for connecting to readers too. Make sure your story includes interests or hobbies that are relevant to middle-grade readers, then take it up a notch by adding a twist. Use things kids know about, like school and family, and add in something else that piques their curiosity, like dogsledding (Dogsled Dreams by Terry Lynn Johnson), having a zookeeper parent (Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs) or figureskating (Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner). Think: What would it be like to….?

Ultimately, you can’t predict whether a reader will connect with your story and characters. Not everyone wants to read every story. But if you can make the reader feel something for your character, chances are he’ll want to keep reading to see what happens next.

What do you do to help readers connect to your stories?

Links:
(*If you know of any other great articles on this subject, let me know and I’ll add them for our reference)

Lydia Sharp writes about how to connect with your reader.
Janice Hardy, author of The Healing Wars trilogy for MG readers, gives us strategies for creating characters that readers will care about.
Author Elana Johnson talks about the first thing a book needs — a character the reader can connect with. 

Tabitha Bird argues that connecting with the book you want to write is more important than connecting with readers.

Lucy Marsen at From the Write Angle writes about how slowing down can help you create connections with characters.


3 comments:

  1. I'll read just about anything if the writing is good enough. Voice and a mastery of writing skill does it for me. And it helps if it's something I'd read anyway.

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  2. I'm still learning to connect to readers :) But if you want to read a book with a GREAT voice, try The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness!

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  3. I think kids go for plot, pretty much. Something has to happen. And characters should be mostly likable for this age group. Some emphasize that the MC should have flaws and be real, and that's true, but I always wanted to read about someone whose life was a bit more charmed than mine.

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