Stuff I Learned at My Writing Workshop (That I’m Kicking Myself in the Head for Not Realizing Sooner):
– The difference between a book that grabs you from the beginning vs. one that you’re on the fence about tossing out the window is winning your trust. It’s why it’s “easier” to read books by authors you already know, or fanfic where you’re familiar with the characters. Winning the reader’s trust as quickly as possible should be your first goal as a writer when you’re going back and editing your first draft. This can be accomplished by things like: speaking authoritatively about the subject (even if it’s utter bullshit), graceful prose, or establishing quickly in the story what it’s about. For example,“Character A had a problem. Character B didn’t love them back, so Character A was going to kidnap them so they would.” Maybe it’s not a story you want to read, but you are now firmly couched in what you signed up for in this story and the promise the author is going to deliver on before the end.
– Characters need goals. They need goals in every moment and in every scene. Every character needs a goal in every moment and in every scene. Maybe they’re not directly pursuing that goal right this very moment but it’s probably always at the back of their mind. Romances and detective stories are the easiest to deliver on this need. Character A wants to win their love. Detective A wants to solve the case. Even when they’re having tea with grandma, their thing is at the back of their mind. Keeping your character and your story focused on this thing they want helps pull your reader along and keeps them engaged on the “So what?” and “Why are we reading this scene?” questions of why they should keep reading.
– Characters shouldn’t just have things they like, they should have obsessions. This is the one I’m kicking myself for. The scientists in Pacific Rim are eccentrically obsessed with studying their thing. Thorin in the Hobbit is obsessed with regaining his home. Katniss Everdeen is obsessed with protecting her sister. Every crazy whackadoodle fandom darling character is obsessed with something. What do they have in common? They’re intensely obsessed with the thing that they care about. We love characters who are obsessed with things beyond reason, whether it’s reclaiming their home stolen by a dragon, or building artisanal bird houses, saving your sister, or studying monsters. Everyone “likes” things, but people and characters who are obsessed with something fascinate us. Examine the characters you’re most attracted to writing in fanfic, and examine your original characters if you’re trying to build those, and figure out what are they obsessed with and how does that inform their character. That’s the thing that’s going to make readers care about them.