Yesterday, I wrote a post about what a fickle pickle I am when it comes to reading. I give a book 10 pages. If it doesn’t pull me in by then, too bad, so sad, into the library bag it goes. There are a variety of reasons to dump a book and they range from missing plots to contrived dialogue. But for me the absolute worst problems relate to character.
To get your readers to connect with your characters you need three things and lucky for us there’s a handy acronym — A.R.F.
Active. Your character has got to be active. Characters who don’t want anything or do anything are boring. It’s just that simple. Characters who wait around for other characters to solve the problem and rescue them are beyond irritating. To achieve a truly active character, you may need to eliminate some of the characters in your story. Take out the one who solves things for your main character (bye-bye helicopter parents) and the extras you simply don’t have space to use to their best advantage.
Relatable. You can’t be expected to create a character who is exactly like your reader. After all, the plan is to have more than two or three readers. But your character has to be relatable. This might mean that they like the things your readers like (bands, movies, sports, or foods), that they have problems similar to those your readers have (parents and school come to mind), and also that they feel recognizable emotions as they face the world.
Flawed. Last but not least, your character cannot be perfect. Perfect people are perfectly annoying. I’m not saying that it has to be huge. Your character doesn’t have to be an axe murderer. Just give your character a flaw (temper, absent-minded, lazy) and if you do it right this flaw will feed into the plot of the story.
Special thanks to Fran Price who wrote ARF up in this SCBWI British Isles blog post. She wrote up ARF as it relates to picture book characters. Her post came to mind as I forced myself through a novel with a main character who languished while waiting to be saved. Novels need characters with ARF just as much as picture books do.