Archive by Author | SD Writer

Internal Conflict

notes-macbook-study-conference.jpgThere’s some advice in romance writing that it is the external conflict brings the hero and heroine together, and the internal conflicts that keep them apart. That’s a great guideline for writers. Too often I see writers going for just the external conflicts, and these are often clichés, which include:

  • The heroine gets kidnapped (this sometimes has a twist of hero being kidnapped, but that’s almost as tired a cliché).
  • The evil stepmother/stepfather spreads terrible gossip that breaks up the couple (usually without any really good motivation for why the character should want to do this).
  • The ex-mistress convinces the heroine the hero (or vice versa) is not to be trusted (she lies in other words, and the heroine/hero somehow believes this just because the plot demands it).
  • Bad things happen to hero and heroine (pick a disaster, and it’s already been used).
  • The hero/heroine decides to leave “for the good of the other person” (and how is this ever good to break someone’s heart?).

Now, external conflicts are great in an action story—they really keep the pace going. But in a character-based story (and that means a romance), you really want the focus on the characters and their relationships. And that means you want to develop internal issues for the characters to have to face and overcome in order to be able to have a relationship. In other words, you want a character arc for your protagonist (not an action arc).

So, let’s talk character arc.

  1. A character arc is where the protagonist has an internal issue that at the start of the story prevents that person from forming a deep relationship.

An arc needs a starting point. This should be as close to the opening of the story as possible. In other words, you want to set up conflict between the hero and heroine (and only one of them should be the protagonist), so that these two people have a deep, internal divide between them.

This can be a personality divide—she’s disorganized, he’s compulsively correct—or it can be an attitude to life—she champions the poor, he’s idle rich, or anything else that comes out of the core personalities of the characters.

  1. There must be consequences for changing or not changing—in other words, the stakes must be high.

If change is easy for the protagonist, there’s not going to be much of a story there. You can go for a small change in a short story, but longer works demand greater conflicts. If the hero can easily also become a champion of the poor, the story ends right there. There must be obstacles to change—and reasons not to change.

The best way to accomplish this is to set up that the protagonist can only get the external goal by giving up the internal need—or vice versa. This sets up a dilemma for the protagonist. You want tough choices and to make them tougher. This gives you the arc of rising action—you want to keep raising the stakes and keep making it harder to make that change. This means there must be a benefit to not changing—all this means really good, thought-out motivations. The reasons WHY characters do things must make it onto the page so the characters make sense to the readers.

  1. Did you set up conflicts between needs and wants?

You want to build in conflict so your story doesn’t wander or fade out about page 100. The best way to do this is set up lots of internal conflicts with external goals. In other words, if a woman’s external goal is to hide her past and her internal need is to keep secrets, she’s not really conflicted about these things. But if a woman’s external goal is to hide her past and her internal need is to be honest, now you have her conflicted—she can’t have it both ways.

You want to set up these conflicts for all your major characters. And you want to make sure the needs and wants are well motivated.

  1. Are the needs and wants really well motivated?

Reader needs to know WHY wants and needs matter to a character. This is very important.

GMCThis is where you get down to bedrock in a character’s psyche—this is what drives this person and makes them do stupid as well as smart things. This is where deep emotions brew—and where actions are driven by core issues for that character. Debra Dixon in her book GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict, talks about how this core motivation works best if deeply entrenched in the character–in other words, you want his to be something the character learned in the formative years. It is a deeply held believe that shapes that person’s identity, and to let go of it would be to face the destruction of self.

If your character’s needs go deep—as in straight to core development years in their childhood—the reader is going to understand that these are core issues. The character who grew up poor and who saw her mother die because there was no money for a doctor will make sense as a woman who will marry just to have money. The character that started torturing small animals at six is going to seem a lot spookier and threatening than anyone who started killing people as an adult.

To make things matter to the reader, make it matter to the character. However, make sure you have someone look over your ideas—motivations have to be plausible, too. They have to fit your character’s background. In general, accountants don’t suddenly wake up one day wanting to be lion tamers—that’s too big a jump to be plausible to readers. So it needs a lot of motivation (as in he’ll get three million dollars if he makes the job change within six months.)

  1. Are any of your conflicts clichés?

A cliché is something that has been done—and over done to death. Now, if you can come up with a great new twist, awesome. But don’t settle for the first idea that pops into your head.

c&VIn Orson Scott Card’s book, Characters & Viewpoint, he holds that the first four to five ideas will be clichés. They pop into mind just because you have read them too often. Throw them out and keep digging. Somewhere about idea six or seven you’ll start to come up with ideas that better fit your characters in terms of both actions and motivations.

Always keep digging. Hunt down clichés and put a fresh twist on them. Let your characters come up with better ideas. And never settle for ideas you’ve already read in too many other books.

  1. Let your characters fail.

All too often, we learn best from failure—so let your characters fail and lose. That is where they are going to find a path to change. That is the peak of the character arc—all is lost, and the old self must die. That is where realizations happen.

A tip here—the bigger the change, the greater the threat/failure must be. If someone is making a minor change, you can use a minor defeat. But if a character must make a 180, you need a HUGE disaster—the loss of everything.

If a woman loses her job when she fails to reach her goal, readers are going to be left wondering why she can’t just get another job. It doesn’t seem a big deal.

Remember, too, that death—while dramatic—is not always the greatest threat to a character. You want to find out what means the loss of “self” for a character.

  1. Make it personal.

The stakes must be personal.

Let’s say your main character helps disabled kids. Great. And if the center where she works gets shut down, she won’t be able to help the kids. Those are good stakes, but it’s not that personal to her. Why can’t she go to work for another disabled center? Why can’t the kids go to another place?

Now it would matter more if one of those kids was hers. But it would matter even more if it’s not the center that would be shut down—it would matter to her most if she’s going to be banned from every working with kids anywhere, ever. Now the thing that defines her is being threatened—she will no longer be who she is if she loses. That’s called raising the stakes, and the higher you raise them, the more the conflict will matter to the characters and the readers.

This is where you want to go digging for gold. You don’t want the character arc to fit any old character—you want it to be specific to your protagonist.

And for that gold, you want to go looking inside your character, not to outside circumstances. Dig into your characters. Develop their internal needs, and what will shatter that person inside. Then you can use the external conflicts to be icing on the strong character arc you’ve developed.

 

Advertisements
This entry was posted on March 28, 2018, in Uncategorized. Leave a comment

What Conflict?

conflict3I just finished up a synopsis workshop and one of the things I kept seeing was that folks were having a hard time writing the synopsis due to not really knowing what is the main conflict in the story. It really does help to know this before you start writing, but it’s vital to know this at some point because the conflict has to come to a head in the third act. If it doesn’t, the story risks being unsatisfying.

You also have to know what’s the main conflict, because that’s going to show anyone interested in the story that you knew what you were doing when you wrote the story. It’s your main selling point.

So how do you figure out the main conflict in your story? It starts by making sure there really is strong conflict.

In one of my favorite Monty Python skits, a man shows up and pays for an argument—the person he paid tells him he didn’t pay. He says he did, too. And they go back and forth. The fellow who came in for an argument puts forward this is contradiction, not an argument. Again with “is too, is not.” That’s sometimes what I see—not really good arguments from the characters, but them contradicting each other. Or, even worse, manufactured, contrived conflict from characters that do not really have deep conflicting issues and goals. This is a problem in a story.

A reader pays for a good story, meaning you need some conflict going on.

The best summary I’ve heard of this is from Bob Mayer—know what your characters want, what they really want, what they really, really want, and what they really, really, really want.

What does that mean?

  1. What does a character want?

This is the obvious goal, and it’s usually external. This is the goal that drives the plot forward. In one of my books, Paths of Desire, the heroine’s external goal is to get married to a rich man—yes, she’s a gold digger. She has reasons for this buried deep in a past which has left her insecure. But this a surface goal—it’s not what she really wants.

The obvious goal (external goal) works best if tied to deeper needs and issues, and this is where you start to dig deeper into your characters.

  1. What does a character really want?

Under ever want is a driving need—if a character just wants something, that’s a weak character. So you did deeper and ask why? This why becomes the really want. In the case of Thea from Paths of Desire, her obvious goal of wanting a rich husband comes from her really wanting security—she thinks if she’s rich and married she’ll be safe from an uncertain world. Again, this want has deep roots (the deeper, the better) that go back to a poverty stricken childhood. But this is still not enough.

  1. What does a character really, really want?

When you find out what a character really wants, ask–but what do they really, really want? You’re now starting to dig down into what makes that character tick. In Thea’s case, what she wanted was a rich husband, what she really wanted was security—but what she really, really wants is to not end up like her mother.

This is where you hope the character will surprise you. In Thea’s case, I hadn’t thought about her past, but when this came up it was an “of course” moment. Thea’s mother has ended up abandoned by a man (Thea’s father)—she’s ended up broken because of love. Thea’s determined to be practical and marry rich and have her security—but it’s her secret fear she’ll become like her mother. However, we’re still not done. We have rich material, but you want to dig deeper.

  1. What does a character really, really, really want?

This is where you get down to bedrock in a character’s psyche—this is what drives this person and makes them do stupid as well as smart things. This is where deep emotions brew—and where actions are driven by core issues for that character. In Thea’s case, her brother died when Thea was just a girl. The boy was even younger, and he died because there wasn’t enough money to pay for a doctor. That event both scared the young Thea and drives her still—she doesn’t want herself or anyone she loves to ever be hurt by lack again. That’s what she really, really, really wants—to have enough.

Now all of this is great stuff, but without obstacles (and other characters to stand in the way), you’re not going to have much in the way of conflict. A character that can move forward without problems is going to give you a boring story. So…what gives you conflict? You want other characters who want things that conflict with the main character’s wants.

This is where you look at your other characters, find out what they want and set them up to provide maximum conflict. Have them want the same thing, but only one person can have it (any McGuffin movie). Have them want opposite things (any superhero movie with one side wanting world-domination and the other side out to stop that). Have them want the same thing but have different approaches to getting it (any buddy flick, with one guy being the rule keeper and the other being the rogue).

In every book, I love it when every character wants something—and really wants something. And really, really wants something. All of this causes trouble for the main character. In Paths of Desire, Thea meets a man who lives for adventure—he’s also married. He’s the last man she should become involved with. But he wants to keep his friend, who is rich, away from her, and that brings them together. His goals are not only different from Thea’s, but tangle with hers in a way so that something has to give—one of them has to change in order for them to find happiness together. And it is not just one character causing Thea problems–she has issues with her mother, her employer at the theater where she is an actress, and with other, younger actors who want to take her place.

And that brings up the next issue with conflict.

If a character can easily give up his or her goal, that’s not a core, strong goal.

This is where you have to be honest with yourself—and dig deep for those very core goals. You don’t want a character who can casually say, “Oh, never mind, it wasn’t that important.” This leaves readers feeling cheated by the story.

Recently, I watched a movie in which Will Farrell plays a man who loses his job and his wife leaves him on the same day. His company car is repossessed after he slashes his bosses’ tires and his soon to be ex-wife freezes the bank accounts to try and force him into a quick divorce. And she puts all his stuff on the front lawn and changes all the locks on his house. Everyone thinks he’s having a yard sale, so that gives him some money—and he starts to live on his lawn.

Now this is a character that seems not to have goal—but he actually has one. His goal is simply to get by every day—and get hold of drink. He wants oblivion. But it’s not what he really wants. He really wants to get back at his wife and his ex-boss. But that’s not what he really, really wants. What he really, really wants is to get his life back. But that’s not what he really, really, really wants. His old life was a shambles, too—and he gradually realizes that. And what he really, really, really wants is to find his way back to a fresh start.

The interesting thing about the story is watching the character cling, at first, to every stupid little thing that is his—all the junk on the front lawn. At first, he’ll sell nothing. He has a signed baseball worth thousands (not that he can sell it, given he can’t get anywhere), and he has more stuff no one needs. He hangs onto everything—at first. But the stuff is a symbol of his old life. As he starts to let it go, he starts to make room for a new life. The stuff becomes a metaphor for living. And letting go of it shows both his conflict and his growth.

Because the stuff is important to the character, letting it go is difficult—if the character had walked away without a look back, there would not have been conflict or a story.  And it’s what the character wants, really wants, really, really wants, and what he really, really, really wants that drives the story.

Finally, look to have consequences–that is how you make goals matter. If your character wants a job promotion, but there is no problem with not getting that promotion (there are other, better jobs out there), then the goal doesn’t matter. Look for goals have huge personal benefits–and losses. So if that character doesn’t get that job promotion, maybe mom ends up thrown from her nursing home. Or better still, that without that promotion, life as that person knows it is over. Make it matter. Make it matter a lot. That is how you raise the stakes in a story and make the reader care.

That’s the kind of conflict you want to build into your characters. And you want to know that’s the conflict you have in your story–conflict you can easily identify and summarize.

juliusceasar

This entry was posted on March 11, 2018, in Uncategorized. Leave a comment

Really Good Narrative

There’s a time to show…but there’s also a time to TELL. A really good narrative is invaluable in many stories.

Narrative seems to have gone out of fashion. It doesn’t seem to be taught, and no one seems to really get what it is. So let’s make it easy.

Merriam-Webster gives us the root for narrative/narrating as the “Latin narratus, past participle of narrare, from Latin gnarus knowing; akin to Latin gnoscere, noscere to know.”

This means it’s basically the author telling the reader the information the author knows, which the reader also needs to know. And now you ask, what does the reader need to know, and when does the reader need it, and how much does the reader need. This is where narrative becomes an art.

There is no exact formula for what is enough telling.  However, readers always need to know:

– Where are we? (Place and world – the reader needs to be placed into the scene, otherwise it’s confusing to the reader. Do not throw your readers into the deep end without giving them some help.)

– When are we? (What’s the era, the time of the year, the month, the day, the hour? We need everything that helps the reader settle into the scene as if this moment in time really exists.)

– Who is here? (An introduction to the characters, particularly to the main characters for that scene, and for the story.)

– Why are we were? (This doesn’t have to be greatly detailed information, but you need enough details to make a reader care. Think of it this way—too little and you starve the reader’s imagination; too much and the reader quickly fills up and drops the book down.)

All this needs to be woven together, stitched in with careful threads, not dumped on the reader in big clumps. Or, to put it another way, feed the reader your telling—your narrative—with a teaspoon, not a soup bowl.

Good narrative does a lot of things for you:

– It condenses information, which helps keep the pace of the story moving forward.

– It weaves in backstory and plot exposition, so you don’t have to have huge info dumps.

– It allows touches of your author voice to add atmosphere and mood to a story.

– It allows you, the author, to set the scene for the reader, thereby setting expectations about the story—you’re basically setting up the reader to enjoy the story (and not have to work too hard).

Bad narrative also does a lot of things for you, but worst of all, poor narrative is awkward, verbose and  tends to make a reader put down the book.

So how do you know if your narrative—your story telling—is working?

– Have someone else read the story—and just have them make an X on the page every time their attention starts to wander. That’s a place where the telling is probably getting to overload.

– Look at the balance of action (showing) to telling—go through with a colored marker and make sure you’re not telling too much.

– Use the story telling to move into and out of scenes (for transitions). Within a scene, cut the telling and only show your characters in action. Only tell if you must to clarify action, intent, or motivations (and even then look for better ways to show this instead of tell).

Most of all, if it works, don’t fix it. But if it doesn’t work, time to get back to edits to make the story work for the reader.

 

Point of View and Voice

I’m starting my Point of View workshop tomorrow and as always before a workshop, I’ve been thinking about the topic. A workshop is always a challenge–how do you better communicate ideas? Do the students understand basic concepts? Are folks trying to run before they can walk? Is anyone even listening?

POV is tough in that I think most folks brush it off as not really that important, when it is in fact one of the most important decision to make. Whose POV best tells the story? What POV gives the most conflict? And, more to the point, what POV calls to you?

Point of view and a writer’s voice cannot be separated. It is what makes writer’s voice authentic. A writer who attempts third person when their skills, preference and characters call out for first person will fail. Just as a writer who attempts first person who really leans heart and soul to third person will end up with clunky writing. Or even worse–writing that just sounds like showing off. And heaven help the story when craft is put first. The poor reader ends up with stories that are just terrible because the writer is spending too much time saying “look at what I can do.” It is death for a story when the reader notices the writing first.

So what’s a writer to do? Learn by reading, of course.

A great fist step I always advise is look at your bookshelf. Are most of the novels in first person? Or third person? Or a mix? Can you even get through a book written in first person (or, heaven help us, first person present tense). My own style leans toward third person–I love that it disappears. But I’ve read and loved some excellent work in first person, and mixed–but it takes talent to pull this off. It also takes passion–and it needs to fit the writer’s voice.

Trying something on is fine for a writer just starting out. Sometimes the only way you know if a pair of jeans fits is to put them on. But it’s also important to figure out what works best for you. And for the story. It’s also important to have your techniques down solid–if your technical skills are weak, the whole story is going to fall apart for the reader. Mastery of technical skills is what allows you to forget them. They’re in your DNA and you do them without thought. But you want to know your intent, too. You want to know just what it is you want to have the story do.

And that thought came up in a recent discussion on a forum about mixing up points of view had me wanting to respond with a question. What’s best for the story? That is the question a writer needs to ask. We’re back to intent here. And then the writer must answer with authority. That is what provides the reader and the story an authentic voice.

How do you Plot?

notquietThere are as many ways to plot as there are writers. However, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you have an idea where you’re going, it can save you from having to do massive revisions. This is not to say you have to know every detail. Sometimes knowing too much can keep you from writing the story–you feel as if it’s already been told.

A balance between too much and too little is my happy spot. I want to know the big moments in every act. I want to know the character arc I’m building–and I want that arc to be the story arc. That’s where I see a lot of writers get into trouble–they build an action arc instead.

Now action can be great–in a mystery, or SF, or a Western. It’s not so good in a romance, which has to be character based. And character-based stories are what I prefer. But character-based stories need to be plotted from the character (not the action). This idea is what led me to my Plotting from Character workshop, which I’m teaching this September for the Contemporary Romance Writers.

handsThe idea behind the workshop is that if you plot from trying to think up actions to happen, you’re more than likely going to end up pushing your characters around as if they are paper dolls. The characters are going to come across as one-dimensional and not well motivated to take the actions demanded by the plot (because the plot is being pushed onto them, not pulled from who these characters are). The other problem is the plot is going to seem contrived–the author will have to manipulate the characters to make these actions happen. That’s going to strain the reader’s ability to believe in these characters (and their situations).

How do you avoid this? Well, that’s the point of the four-week workshop. But there are some tips:

  1. Create one main character–this is your protagonist. I know this seems obvious, but it is amazing how many writers write as if they are really unsure who is the protagonist. This is not the narrator. This is the character who changes the most in the story (and who faces the most problems).
  2. Create an external goal for the main character that is tangible, so the reader knows if the character gets it or not. (There should be consequences for failing to achieve the goal. Failure should be personally costly to the main character. And those consequences are the motivation for wanting this goal.) This will drive your action and needs to be known to the reader as soon as possible (in the first ten pages is best).
  3. Figure out the main characters’ person’s core internal need. This should be something in conflict with that character’s goal so you get automatic conflict for that character between what that person wants and needs.
  4. Make sure you have strong motivations (the why) for a character’s core need. Discard the first three or four ideas (those will be clichés).
  5. Internal motivations are strongest if tied to a specific event in the character’s formative years—create these scenes (you may use them in the story).
  6. WHY is the most important question to keep asking and answering–why would this person act this way? Why do they want that thing? Why must they do this now? Never stop asking this question.
  7. Have a theme in mind–it will help you enormously as you shape all your characters and the story. Theme helps you figure what to put in and what to leave out.
  8. Create secondary characters around the main one, with clear needs, goals and motivations for every character–and with more and more conflict.
  9. Layer in strengths and weaknesses for all your characters–develop them so characters do more than show up to advance a plot.
  10. Leave room for your characters to surprise you.

Obviously, there is more to the art of plotting from characters. But if you keep the story focused on your characters–and keep asking would this person really do this?–then your stories are going to become much stronger.

3act.png

 

Rushing the Story

stophurryingI’ve seen a new habit cropping up with a lot of beginning writers–they’re all rushing the story. It’s like these writers are so afraid of a slow pace that the story takes off the other direction, meaning too fast for the reader to start to care about the action and way too fast to establish the scene and the characters.

Visual media–movies and TV–have it lucky. A thirty second shot can do a lot to establish place, time and even give you a good bit of information on a character. But in any written media, all of that needs far more than a sentence or two on the page.

Now I’m not saying you have to drag the story out, or load on the details until it is overwhelming. I’m talking a balance between too much and too little. Too much information can indeed slow a story down and leave the reader turning pages to jump ahead to where there is some action and the story starts. But too little information can leave a reader confused, and leaves the setting unclear and will not help the reader into the story with vivid details.

The opening of a story–or every scene in the story–is also a vital place to set the reader into the world, the moment, and is a place to establish the tone of the story. Yes, an action packed story should start off with action. But a historical romance can slow down the pace. A cozy mystery doesn’t have to have the same grit as a police procedural. Writers need to think about the type of story being produced. And have confidence in their own skills. A writer who will take time to set up the story and the scene will better hook me because I can see at once that this writer will deliver on the promise in those opening pages. I trust this writer knows how to TELL A STORY.

And I think that is where a lot of young writers fall down. Yes, you need to know the technical stuff–how to write a sentence or craft a paragraph so it won’t trip the reader. Even more important is how to tell a story, and that means all parts of the story. This means you want to know how to craft every scene so it has an arc–a beginning, middle and end. You want to know how to weave in conflict and tension, but how to do so with also weaving in vital details.

A writer needs to use all the senses to bring the reader into the world–to make the reader smell the air, feel the chill or warmth, hear the crunch of frost or gravel. It’s about more than throwing in just a few crumbs of details–the writing must have enough brush strokes to realize the world. And that means the writer has to see, hear, smell and think about all these details.

It’s not enough to say the hallway was black and white marble with a grand staircase. I want to know if that marble is polished to a sheen and is slick to walk on, or is it dusty and cracked. I want to know if the air is stale or fresh with the scent of orange blossoms and roses from a hot house. I want to know if the character standing next to that grand staircase is shivering in the cold of a draft, or sweating from oppressive heat and wishing a window could be opened. I want to see the world through the character’s eyes and have a mood established of foreboding, or joy, or tension, or awe. I want to hear the footsteps crack against that marble, or hear the slam of a distant door and I want to be immersed in that world. All that means the writer must be just as immersed.

It is noted that the great writer Chekhov once wrote to his brother Alexander, that, “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”’

chekhovmoon03This has come to be attributed as: Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Which Checkov indeed did in one of his stories:  The dam, flooded with moonlight, showed not a bit of shade; on it, in the middle, the neck of a broken bottle glittered like a star. The two wheels of the mill, half-hidden in the shadow of an ample willow, looked angry, despondent …

So maybe it is a need for these younger writers (and by young, I mean in experience, and not so much in age), to slow down and read their own work aloud. That’s a habit I learned early on. Reading your work aloud is a great way to catch not just the mistakes, but to hear the cadence of the words and to learn where more is needed. It’s rather like having a chef who must takes the food–a lack of tasting leads to not enough of the right spices.

Or maybe it’s just a need to slow down in general. Stop trying to rush to the end. Start letting the reader–and yourself–enjoy more of the process of getting there. Let the story unfold and spend more time with the details. Do multiple drafts and look to improve every single draft with more of the right details and more vivid images and senses. Give the reader a world the reader won’t want to leave.

And think about the overall tone of the story–go for more of what you want to give the reader (more humor, or more romance, or more tension, or more whatever you want to deliver). A writer’s job is to deliver a great story–and that means the writer must first imagine it.

What Are You Showing the Reader?

faces.jpgOne of the most important things to think about when you open any story is—what are you SHOWING the reader about that character? You want to remember that what you TELL the reader doesn’t matter as much as what you SHOW.

That’s right—you can tell the reader, the protagonist is smart, handsome, pretty, kind, and all kinds of wonderful. But if you don’t show the character being those things, the reader won’t believe it.

When you’re showing the character to the reader, you describe the character’s actions and use those actions to reveal emotion and thoughts. This puts the character on the page. And this all takes more words because you have to layer actions that are expressions of emotion (one action does not clearly identify an emotion, as in trembling hands could be anger, fear, or just feeling the cold). And showing is about IMMEDIACY—it’s happening now for the character. This means you do not want lots and lots of backstory in any character’s introduction.

In a lot of manuscripts that I see, the main characters is not shown as someone that the reader can connect with and root for. The characters does things that make the character unlikable right from the start. This is a problem when you have a reader looking to read for fun–it’s like going to a dinner party and finding out there’s  no one you can connect with. You want to leave the party right away.

Showing a character in action always uses more of the five senses: touch, taste, sound, sight, smell. Anytime you want to show more, read your draft and see if you are only describing sights—then weave in as many of the five senses as you can. And think about what you are showing. Are you showing a character who is a coward, who is cold, who is unkind? Is there anything you can show that would better connect the reader to that main character?

If you want a reader to connect with a character, you want several things:

-SHOW the character in action (so the reader gets an immediate sense of who is this person).

-PRESENT the character with something the reader can either admire or understand.

-CONNECT the reader emotionally with the character—meaning it’s not about the action entirely. The reader has to understand the character’s motivations and emotions.

And if you’re writing genre fiction, take a look at Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules for Writers. They’re going to help you get your readers attached to your characters right off.