In our last MUG meeting, our published piece was called “Monkeys of the Sea”, and as we were discussing it – specifically, discussing the characters – I was reminded of an article I read (and blogged about) about something called ‘The Monkeysphere“.
The article is a discussion on human behavior and psychology. It was published on Cracked.com, so it’s tinged with humor, which makes it easy to read, as well. It’s about the number of people you’re actually capable of caring about. Actually, you should go read it. Go on, click on the link and read the article. I’ll wait. No, no, don’t go on, the rest of this post won’t make sense unless you read it. Don’t worry, I’ll be right here waiting for you when you’re done.
… Finished? Good! Interesting stuff, isn’t it? I mean, man, think of all those poor people in Japan and Haiti that you really don’t care about.
But what, you ask, does this have to do with writing?
OK, maybe you’re not asking that. You probably already figured it out… you saw that reference in the first sentence to characters, didn’t you? Of course you did. Or maybe you read the title of this post. Whatever, time to get on with it.
I can think of a few characters in stories that, for however long I was reading (or watching), wormed their way into my Monkeysphere. That’s not an easy thing to do; your characters need to have more than just motivation and personality. They need to strike a chord with the reader, actually tug at the heart strings.
So how is that accomplished? How do you make a character so relatable that the reader really, truly cares about them? To do that, you need some specific qualities.
- History. You don’t need a complete, day-by-day breakdown of the character’s life, but a few details from a character’s past are important in making them seem real.
- Emotion. This is really part of the character’s personality. How will the character react in various situations? What makes them laugh or cry, and how does that show up in the story?
- Vulnerability. Don’t make your characters bulletproof. They need to get in trouble, struggle with challenges, and fail sometimes.
- Motivation. This is one of the two big ones. Why is the character doing what they’re doing? Is it something from their past? An emotional reaction to an external event?
- Personality. The other big one. All of the other four qualities merge together to form the character’s personality, but there are details beyond that. Is your character a smartass? Does he have a nervous tic? Give him or her something to make them immediately identifiable.
Keep these things in mind as you’re writing. If you do, you’ll give the reader a new family member to care about. When the character’s in trouble, you want the reader to be afraid for them, and when they triumph, the reader should be shouting for joy. For the duration of their read (and if you do it really well even after), your character will become a part of the reader’s Monkeysphere.
Good luck, and happy writing!