1. Kertesz
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    Kertesz New Member

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    How do I establish a connection between characters and reader?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Kertesz, Mar 9, 2009.

    Hello,

    I'm writing a novel, and in this novel are many characters. I've been told, here and elsewhere, that my characters sort of have an inhuman quality about them. This is the reader's judgement based on the first 5 or 6 pages though, so I was wondering about the following things:

    Should I try to establish an early emotional connection to a couple of the characters in my novel?

    Or should I begin by devloping their physical features and speech patterns in the first pages, then move to an emotional level later on as the story progresses? Rather than throw everything about the character at the reader all at once.

    If yes to the first question, how could I effectively do this without throwing everything at the reader at once, or disrupting the flow of the story?

    In my dialogue, how can I make my characters' speech and thoughts more natural, and less inhuman, i.e. scripted? Here's an example of one characters thought process:

    “What is it in this man’s nature, which makes him so different to me? We are both the same age, and he is the youngest in his family too. It was certainly upbringing . . . spoiled! I struggled; it was all I knew for years. But he! No, would an easy life give a man confidence . . . why? He is confident, but stupid perhaps. Does he care about important things, or is popularity synonymous with . . . being superficial, having an empty mind? There is nothing he thinks of that could worry him, and I think – remember, and worry. But how I want to be someone! He doesn’t think, but he succeeds . . . or does he think, perhaps? I should very much like to find out. Were I to swap places with him, have his popularity, imagine how far I could go! Such a difference I could make . . . peace . . . lock away my father and others of his kind! But I’m awkward and weak and I will never have anything or anyone. Birth, maybe it’s all luck. I could love all of these people, if they didn’t . . . despise me. And I do - I am kind; they know this without thinking it, anyway, I don’t want to be like them.”

    Any help would be very appreciated, thanks.
     
  2. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    If you want a bit of connection, you need character. Instead of having your protagonist rave on about what he thinks of the other person and himself, pull back and let the reader suck in a bit of character. Above, you're telling the reader what to think of these characters instead of letting the reader think and see for himself. Try to show what your protagonist does and how he reacts the same with any other charactor.

    Instead of telling us through narrative that the antagonist is spoiled or confident, show us! Have him drive a sports car a heap of chicks in the car with him. Make him walk through crowds and have everybody part away as he walks the streets. And if you so wish too you can even add a couple of thoughts of observation by you main charactor. Even better have you character shy away from eye contact.
    Little things like that.

    If you want connection stop putting the words into the reader head, let the reader absorb his own image.

    anyone wish to add?
     
  3. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    I can only base my response on the writing sample that you have posted, and I guess my first reaction is that the character himself comes across as overtly alienated from people, which is what your readers might be picking up on. That thought process is also (to me) lamenting a lack of understanding of humans in general, so in that respect I can see where the sense of 'inhuman' is coming from.

    Failing to understand the nuances of human behaviour is a common human trait (oddly enough), so I suppose the trick is using language so that the reader can immediately identify with the character on some level - if not completely understand him at first. The language in your excerpt is a bit formal, and I wonder if perhaps that might be the stumbling block? I understand that it is a thought process, but even though thoughts are all up in the mind, they're often emotion-driven and therefore more rough - incisive. With the formality of the language used in that particular piece, I get the impresion of a summary of thoughts - the end of the process - and that the character is shielding himself from those he is referring to, and in turn my view, which may not be ideal when you're delving into someone's thoughts - I feel as alienated from him as he does from me, if you see what I mean...?

    That may well be the nature of the character you are writing, though. I can't make a judgement call one way or another from reading that particular excerpt. (I feel compelled to point out that I in no way mean any of the above as an assessment on the quality of your writing, either).

    So I guess my suggestions would be to try a less formal kind of approach, 'dirty' up the language a bit and let the reader see a little bit more of why he thinks those things. (Eg. awkward is something we have all felt from time to time, but I have no idea what makes him feel so out of place and weak, he just tells me that he is and thus I believe it, but don't have much understanding of it).

    I hope something in there may help!
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    All relatable characters are relatable due to their human qualities. Lt. Worf becomes real when you see him struggling with what he knows as honorable as opposed to what a corrupt Council deems to be in the best interests of the Empire. Kal-El becomes interesting when you see that it is how he was raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent that shapes his priorities and emotional responses, not his Kryptonian abilities.
     
  5. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    You should do all this at the same time, but it shouldn't be obvious that this is what you are doing. It should be spread out and revealed when needed through the events of the story. I've never believed you need a lot of details about what the character looks like unless it is telling you more than what the character looks like. Charles de Lint went into great detail describing the clothing choices and hair of a character in his book Little Grrl Lost because it said a lot about her personality, which was part of the conflict. He said very little about appearances in his book Dingo because how they looked because it didn't influence conflict. We do need to know the superficial details like the characters' appearance, but it will get boring if you give us all that and wait for three pages to give us a reason to care.

    Instead of spending time making sure we know what they look like, details you can insert through action (e.g. "She pushed a strand of brown hair behind her ear), worry about the conflict, personalities, relationships, why the reader should care. Cogito gave some good examples. Perhaps what would work for you is figuring out all these things before you even start writing and then when you know everything, jump right into the story and not worry about all that stuff. It will come through.
     
  6. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    I think a risk with that strategy is if you leave it too late, the reader has already formed a mental picture of the character - if you break the view of how the character looks that you've allowed them to form, it jars and breaks the narrative for the reader. Unchanging details like hair colour should be introduced right after the character, or not at all to allow the reader to run with whatever mental image they build up.

    e.g. You don't tell me Evelyn's hair colour for the first 100 pages, and I'm picturing her with black hair. Then on page 101 you mention that she's blonde, and I'm suddenly thinking "huh?".
     
  7. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Two words: mimic reality.

    Write yourself into the story. Write your own thoughts, emotions, actions on a particular set of circumstance, in your story. Have you ever done that before? Try it. True writing is all about revealing your human self, down to the rotten core. Leave not one stone unturned. Bare your darkest secret, and your characters will come alive with depth and emotion.

    Stop worrying about superfluous things such as speech pattern and physical features. They have nothing to do with character depth or personalities. Try what I've recommended, and if you find yourself unable to commit to yourself and be honest with yourself by telling the truth, you'll do better in another profession.
     
  8. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    “What is it in this man’s nature, which makes him so different to me? We are both the same age, and he is the youngest in his family too. It was certainly upbringing . . . spoiled! I struggled; it was all I knew for years. But he! No, would an easy life give a man confidence . . . why? He is confident, but stupid perhaps. ......”

    Jesus Christ. Do you talk like this? How do you talk? Write how you really talk on paper without the uhmms... oohhhs... or like, like, like. I think the problem you have is writing dialogues--believable dialogues--and action sequence. Just keep it simple, my man. Stop writing to impress, but rather write to communicate--with the least amount of words.

    How do I establish a connection between characters and reader?


    When you become the mediator.
     
  9. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I agree with EyezForYou though a bit more tactfully. It's hard to relate to a character whose thoughts read like...well, really complicated narration. Listen to your own thoughts sometime. I doubt they're in complete sentences that you had to slave over to make just perfect and profound. Maybe you should study dialogue more, how people actually talk, to form a better connection to characters. There really ARE the occasional people who think and talk like the example you posted, but most people really aren't like that, and if you write characters who think/talk like that all the time, of course the average reader won't relate to them very well. The example you posted makes the character seem very distracted, distant, uninvolved, overly thought oriented, overly concerned with how he/she phrases even his/her thoughts. Not very relatable.

    Dialogue. Study it.
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Who said anything about waiting until the hundredth page? I was talking about giving phsyical details and making emotional connections at the same time in the first few pages, just like the OP. Who would be dumb enough to leave a detail like hair colour, if it really mattered to begin with, to the hundredth page anyway?

    The point is, if you load us up with superficial facts and not tell much story or make any emotional connections in the first few pages, you are going to bore your reader really fast. They are not going to care, and stop reading, which is a lot worse than having them slightly thrown off for ten whole seconds by the fact that the character is blond and they thought she was a red-head. Besides, the exact same thing can happen if the cover artist doesn't pay attention. In an interview with one author I read, the person mentioned that a character was shown as a blond on the cover, but the writer and said his hair was brown.

    In the long run, what really matters, who they are, or the fact that they have brown eyes?
     
  11. g1ng3rsnap9ed
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    g1ng3rsnap9ed Contributing Member

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    Creating characters can be the hardest part about writing your novel. I would try to establish a connection between the readers and characters early on in the novel because I know that if I cannot connect to a character in whatever I'm reading (Save for short stories.), then I will set it down immediately. Maybe you should try re-writing your manuscript with more believable/relatable characters. Personally I would highly consider it, at least.
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I am only going to offer my opinion about how reading this character’s thought made me feel. He feels robotic to me, and at first I would have thought he was an alien, if you didn't tell me otherwise.

    As someone already pointed out the thoughts are written rather formal, and I think that is why it lacks a human personality. Also use contractions unless he truly says, I am, do not, will not, we are, he is, etc.

    Here is my quick attempt at adding personality. I hope it helps.

    “What makes us so much different? We’re both the same age. Hell, he’s the youngest in his family, too. Certainly, it was his upbringing—spoiled. I struggled for years, but him? no. Did his easy life make him confident? Why? Sure, he’s confident, and maybe a little stupid. And does he care about important things? Do you have to be superficial in order to become popular? [Something like that, but I would remove the popularity part.]

    He seems worry free, but I think too much, and I worry. I long to be someone. You know, to fit in? He doesn’t even think, yet he succeeds, or does he think? I would like to find out. If I could just swap places with him, have his popularity, God, imagine how far I could go. I could make such a difference—peace—lock away my father and others like him. But I’m awkward, weak, and I’ll never become someone, or find love.

    Maybe it’s all luck. I could love these types of people if they didn’t despise me. And I do. I’m kind; I think they know this. Anyway, I don’t want to be like them.”
     
  13. MelissaLynne
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    MelissaLynne Member

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    I struggle with character development a lot, and I agree that it is the hardest part. I do think you should try to include both, but not force it so much. In that short piece it seemed you were trying too hard to let everyone know every single detail about the character. I think the way you tried to squeeze it in was very smart, but it also seem obvious to me. I understand though, sometimes I feel I just want to get my characters out of the way and write the story! What I tend to do is get a mental picture in my head about the person and just write a dialogue. Picture your characters, give them a voice, and than write about physical features here and there without throwing them in all at once. I think as long as you try to give the readers a general idea of who this person is in the first chapter of your story, you'll be fine. The most important thing for me is to connect with my characters and it makes easier to write about them. Try the same, you can always add things in your piece afterwards!
     
  14. Chaoslogic
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    Chaoslogic Member

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    “What is it in this man’s nature, which makes him so different to me? We are both the same age, and he is the youngest in his family too. It was certainly upbringing . . . spoiled! I struggled; it was all I knew for years. But he! No, would an easy life give a man confidence . . . why? He is confident, but stupid perhaps.

    No man monologues like Shakespheare; and that is where your problem lies. The monologuing is choppy, but not in the manner that makes it easy on the reader. There is also a problem with syntax that needs to be corrected. Replace your three dot elipsing with parentheses. Compare the following:

    =-=-=

    Exhibit A: It was certainly upbringing . . . spoiled!

    with

    Exhibit B: It was certainly upbringing (spoiled!).

    =-=-=

    Now avoid adverbs (certainly). Add some pronouns (his/her).

    Exhibit C: It was his upbringing (spoiled).

    =-=-=

    Now add some character:

    Exhibit D: Why is this man so different from me; where does his nature set him apart? We're the same age (Is that all? The narrator seems to obsess over details). It must be his upbringing; what a spoiled bastard.

    I would write more, but the biggest problem is continuity. I have no idea what he's talking about anymore, and it doesn't help that the following passage isn't legible.

    I struggled (what, why?); it was all I knew for years (knew what?. But he! (But he! ...what?) No, would an easy life give a man confidence (??? what and why is he disagree?). . . why? (???) He is confident, but stupid perhaps. (Why does he think this person is stupid and confident?)[/I]

    If you want me to help you out, you'll have to answer those questions. Authors can forget that their audience doesn't know what hasn't been said.

    If you can at least answer a few of these whats and whys, I'll help you out some more.

    I hope this helps.
     
  15. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    A lot of good advice has already been given, and I admit I don't have much to add. Instead, I will just highlight the good advice I've already seen and really agree with:

    1) When getting into a character's head, be informal. Thoughts, of all things, should flow pretty naturally. As someone said, don't write to impress--write to communicate.

    2) You should establish some kind of investment in the character right away. If it's not plausible to emotionally invest the reader in a character quickly, make a promise to reveal something interesting about that character later (i.e. build some suspense around them). Bear in mind that I'm just spouting general guidelines. Sometimes you want a character to appear pretty plain so that you can use them in a twist later on in the story, although that approach isn't really practical for a main character.

    3) Emotional details are more important than physical ones, but don't wait too long to give the physical ones (if you care about how the reader envisions the character). Whoever recommended using action to show physical traits is smart, in my opinion. :) It can be easier than you may think to incorporate a character brushing back some hair of a certain color, or looking at the main character in a certain way with with certain-colored eyes. Sometimes a straight-up description works best, but the action-oriented approach always seems more eloquent (to me) when applicable.

    4) I strongly agree with whoever said that you need to put yourself in the story and throw away any fears you have of opening yourself up, rendering yourself vulnerable, and letting everything come out. If you want to really connect with people and say something potentially profound, that's what you have to do. I think that emotional investment is what separates the "good" stories from the "great" ones.
     
  16. Chaoslogic
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    Chaoslogic Member

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    Characters are remembered for their quirks more than their appearences. Who hasn't read about a middle-aged male with brown hair and brown eyes. In real life, I'm distinguished by the pistachios I eat and the trail I leave behind; people say I eat like a squirrel. With a description like that, who cares what I look like.
     
  17. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Excellent point. :D
     
  18. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    Hi. Nice to meet you.

    Take a look at the verbs you use:


    You use a lot of wht's known as copular verbs:

    For example:

    he (subject) is (couplar verb) the youngest person (complemant/predicative).

    This is your telling. Telling plays a very important part in fiction, but you're using too much of it.

    How do you change it?

    Change the majority to 'action verbs': Even at twenty-five, all 'the family's' pass-me-down clothes (folded neatly into bin-liners) stopped with him. They made great insulation for his attic.

    The reader picks up he's the youngest in the familiy because passing on clothes 'stops with him' (there's no-one younger to pass them onto). And because the main characetr is shown to be shamed (he hides them in the attic) readers can empathise with him (jeez, the clothes I've had being the youngest of four).

    Hope this helps in some way.:)
     

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