My last few posts have dealt with getting to the 'psychological heart' of your characters (particularly your lead character). The lead character is your reader's gateway into your story world and if the reader doesn't bond with, believe in, or care about your lead character, why should they read on?
According to James Scott Bell, in the book "Revision & Self-Editing" (a book I highly recommend), there are four key elements to help create a bond between your reader and your lead character:
- identification (i.e. someone we can relate to)
- sympathy (a situation that makes the reader care about the character)
- likeability (not many people want to read about a character who is selfish and unlikeable . . . though there are exceptions to this rule--i.e. if your character is an evil but super genius perhaps it will fascinate your reader, but tread carefully if you are writing a lead like this)
- inner conflict (we all have it -- emotional struggles and it gives the character a sense of believability)
I just finished reading Kathleen Winters, Annabel, the other day (another book I recommend). While the story isn't plot-driven, it's a coming of age book, and the lead character, Wayne Blake (aka Annabel) a hermaphrodite certainly has the sympathy factor of not fitting in, and having a father and community who do not accept him for who he is.
Wayne also has inner conflict toward his father. He dislikes him for being so closed-minded, yet he yearns for his father to love and accept him. In addition, the reader can identify with Wayne in terms of the innate need to belong.
Finally, though I've read more likeable characters than Wayne, he did have likeablity in that he could stand on his own two feet and not have to melt in with the crowd and though he was dealt a challenge in life, he did not whine about it.
Feel free to share some of the lead characters you have read about that have inspired you.