As a writer what you want is for the reader to be absorbed into your story so they think, ‘Just this chapter and then I’ll go to sleep’ but when they get to the end of the chapter... they’ve got to keep reading.
What you want is for the reader to lose sense of time and place and be immersed in the fictional world you’ve created.
What you want is for the reader to identify with your protagonist so his adventure is their adventure.
So how do you do that?
Every reader is able to identify with all sorts of characters in all sorts of books. Characters who vary in how they look, what they believe, from different places in history and fantasy, and yet they have something in common, something every reader of whatever background can relate to and get caught up in.
In order for the reader to identify with the main character you don’t require similarity of background or beliefs or have to in some way create a character that the reader will see a lot of themselves in or wish to be like. A big macho man can read a story about a frail pregnant woman and identify with her struggles.
Identifying with a character doesn’t mean wanting to be them, it mean the character has a goal and the reader wants them to achieve that goal. If the reader supports them in their mission, whether it’s robbing a bank or making a sandwich, it will keep the reader reading.
It’s identifying with the goal that makes you identify with the character.
The goal doesn’t have to be something you would like to achieve in real life, it’s got nothing to do with you. It’s your ability to be interested in the specific details of others that is ingrained in every human. What’s he got? Where did she find that? Why did she choose him?
Those things that are unique to a person, specific to their needs, are the things we relate to most strongly and that feel universal. I realise the stories of people who want what everyone wants should logically feel most easy to identify with, but it’s only when you personalise those stories that they become captivating.
Exactly what it is the character is after and whether it will be considered a worthwhile story goal is a matter of personal judgement on the part of the writer. But whatever it is, that’s where you will engage the reader and where you should look to make sure you have the reader’s attention. The rest is up to you.
Different markets have different interests. Some readers are so keen to identify with a particular goal (romance readers with finding love, thriller readers with saving the world/girl, fantasy readers with heroic deeds etc.) that the writing and plotting can be quite pedestrian and still be best sellers. But generally speaking clichéd goals, obvious outcomes, trivial and mundane aspirations and casual desires will be easier to ignore and fail to connect with.
There are some people who think character is king and if you like the character it won’t matter what they get up to, but my feeling is if you happen to have a great character why not give them something interesting to do?
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