Yes, RU is on hiatus but because of a lapse in communication on my part, I’m posting this column on creating empathetic characters (with excellent examples) written by author and RU contributor Laura Drake.
Though I’ve never had a beginning writer ask me specifically about this subject, I think ALL questions lead back to this one: How do I make readers fall in love with my characters?
To me, this is simple, but not easy. Because it requires subtlety. It’s in the details . . . but not just any details. You have to choose details that are unique and quintessentially your character. Inserted at the beginning, they clue your reader in to who your character is in almost a shortcut way.
This is from the beginning of my December release (out yesterday!), The Last True Cowboy:
Addiction sucks. I should know. Papaw has his White Lightning. Nana has her Bingo-jones. My addiction has sad green eyes and my name tattooed across his left pec.
But my wedding-dress dreams always come in second to his rodeo. There’s even a term for it: Rodeo Widow. Except to earn that title, I’d have to be married.
Squinting through the windshield glare, I shift the knob on the steering column to third and press on the gas, but the speedometer doesn’t budge. Dang it, at this rate I’m going to be late for the breakfast shift. Papaw bought the truck new about the time I was born, and Nana named it “Nellybelle.” Said she stole the name from a car on some TV show—Roy Somebody. All I know is, I’m stuck driving the beater, so Nana can drive the Camry to Bingo.
I’m less than a mile from the paved road when clanking starts under the hood. It sounds like the hammers of hell in there. I take it out of gear and lurch to the side of the washboard road and watch the dust billow up in the rearview mirror. “Now that’s just craptastic.” I’m no mechanic, but I’ve been driving since before I could reach the pedals. I know what a thrown rod sounds like. Nana would say, “Nellybelle’s sleeping with Jesus.” My luck she’ll want to have a funeral.
233 words. What do we know about the protagonist, Carly Beauchamp?
- She’s in love with her first and only boyfriend
- She grew up a country girl
- She knows a lot about mechanics, as a farmer’s daughter would
- She’s got a sense of humor
- She lives with her grandparents
- They don’t have much money
Are you rooting for her at this point? Do you like her? Why?
After you show the reader who the character is in the beginning, to deepen important scenes, you go back to the essence of who the character is in key places: turning points, emotional scenes, black moments.
This scene is after Carly’s broken up with her boyfriend, but can’t resist one last time with him (which turns out to be a bad mistake):
He slants his head, and when he opens his mouth, sweet turns hot. He seems as desperate as I feel, tasting, testing, pushing. We can’t get close enough. His hands cup my butt and he lifts and turns me, so I’m standing on the running board. We’re the exact same height. I know, because we tested it out before he bought this truck. I’m squeezed between the truck body and his, yet still, it’s not enough. Wrapping my fists in his shirt, I pull him closer and melt into his mouth. Tonight’s memory is going to have to last me the rest of my life.
Making out with someone who knows what you need before you do—who, when you do “that thing” reacts the exact same way, every time…it’s the best.
Then somehow, we’re up in the cab and I’m lying on top of Austin (he got the bench seats special for us, too). He grasps the front of my shirt, and there’s a pistol-shot, pop-pop-pop-pop as the snaps come undone.
In a deep part of my brain the pheromones haven’t fogged; reason is yelling, Don’t do it! You’re making it worse! Don’t– Heat and hormones blot out the rest.
Do you see how the small details — that they tested the height of the running board and bought a truck with bench seats, remind the reader that these two have been together a long time, and know each other as well as they know themselves. It heightens the emotion, and the reader is invested – because even if we haven’t experienced that level of intimacy with another person, we all want to, right?
Don’t forget the touchstone of who your character is, deep inside, and bring that out in key scenes, to have your reader love your characters and root for them to find their HEA!
This cowboy’s got one last chance to prove himself.
Carly Beauchamp has loved cowboy Austin Davis since first grade. Ask anyone in their dusty, backwater New Mexico town of Unforgiven, and they’ll say “Carly and Austin” the way some say “big trucks and country boys.” But after years of waiting for a wedding ring, Carly’s done with being a rodeo widow . . .
Austin never meant to put his career on the circuit before Carly. She’s always been his future, his one and only. But now that she’s moved on, he’s beginning to see where he went wrong, and he’ll do anything to win her back. The only thing is, Carly’s suddenly acting differently, and she’s definitely hiding a secret-one that will test the depth of their love and open up a whole new world of possibilities.
Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance.
She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award in the Best First Book category.
Her ‘biker-chick’ novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin’s Superromance line, and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town.
Laura’s first women’s fiction, Days Made of Glass, released January, 2016.
In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.
Connect with Laura via Twitter, Facebook, or on her group blog, Writers in the Storm.