3 Things You Should Be Doing to Create Emotional Connection to Characters

There are three things you can do to instantly create better character connection for your readers and make them care.

3 Things You Should Be Doing to Create Emotional Connection to Characters

One of the biggest things I see authors get wrong when they’re submitting their novels to agents or publishers is the emotional connection to their main characters. Namely, their stories lack such a connection.

“I couldn’t connect to the story as well as I’d hoped.”

“It didn’t engage me.”

“I couldn’t relate to the characters.”

“Create a closer emotional connection to your main character.”

Similar lines from agents or publishers are usually all getting at the same problem: character connection. Does yours?

Sometimes you’re simply starting in the wrong place. You’re not diving deep enough into the inner workings of your perspective character to let readers know how or if they should care. Or you’re starting with the wrong character.

Other mistakes I frequently see as an editor and book coach include 

  • opening the story with setting or worldbuilding
  • introducing too many new characters, concepts, or terms at once
  • beginning with dialogue between otherwise unfamiliar characters
  • diving right into too much action

But the good news is that there are three things you can do to instantly create better character connection for your readers and make them care. Let’s find out what they are!

1. Open your story from the perspective of your protagonist.

Readers should get attached quickly. But if you’re setting your readers up to attach to a character that isn’t your protagonist, you risk investing them more in another character. Sometimes we fall hardest for our first loves! ;) And it can be hard to reorient to a different character after thinking the story was about someone else.

I used to love opening my novel WIPs with prologues from the villain’s perspective. But then, as one of the authors I recently met with noted, it’s like readers have to start the story twice.

First, the reader gets into the head of the villain and what’s going on there. Then the reader has to completely switch gears to reorient to another character and situation—usually the actual protagonist introduced in chapter 1.

2. Dive into your character’s internal tension and motivation before everything else.

But do so organically. Make sure your opening scene facilitates all of that inner stuff your protagonist is dealing with. And a solid, clear goal can carry a reader a long way into your story too. If your protagonist knows what she wants and you can show her struggling with what’s standing in her way, your readers will likely get invested quickly.

I understand the impulse to dump readers into the middle of an exciting action sequence or to start with a conversation between multiple characters. It seems like these would be more entertaining options than getting a glimpse inside one character’s head for a hook. Like… how is that even a hook?

But the truth is that readers won’t know what really matters in this new-to-them story world if they don’t get that glimpse. They need to grasp some insight into what’s driving the character and why it matters to the character in order to know by what to judge the story’s subsequent events. Jumping right into the action or dialogue often robs them of that orientation on which to base their feelings.

3. Insert your character’s viewpoint in every scene.

Your character’s perspective is so important. Let readers see the protagonist’s unique worldview through how he perceives things, reacts, and thinks. Even your narration in that character’s point of view should reflect the character’s perspective. Slip in how your character cares about what’s happening. Your readers will care based on how your character cares.

Getting a dragon’s-eye view of the story events and situations isn’t a great way to get a reader invested. Think about rising above a carnival in a hot air balloon. The music is muted, people look like moving specks. Colors lose definition. Compare that experience with that of one of the carnival-goers tasting the melting grit of the cotton candy, smelling the fried foods, hearing the laughter, and pushing through the crowds. When you don’t provide readers with the opinions and unique perspectives of your character, it’s like you’re only letting readers view your story from the hot air balloon rather than letting them into your story on the ground. You’re only showing them what’s happening from afar rather than showing them why it all matters to your character. 

By making sure your novel does these three things, you’ll avoid some of the most common reasons agents (or readers!) have a hard time connecting with or getting into your story. Readers need to know how the character cares about the experiences so they know how to care for the character—and therefore the story. 

From deep in that character perspective, an emotional memory might tickle something in the back of your readers’ minds, but in a good way that helps them put themselves in the character’s shoes. And in a way that rings with shared experience and truth.

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