Who comes to mind when you think of a book character that you connected with on a truly emotional level? A character you rooted for, you cried with, you wished would have a happy ending, you wished would kick ass and succeed in all ways…?
For me, that character is Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter.
In the beginning, I hated his pretentious little guts and hoped his schemes would blow up in his face. As he aged (as we aged), I realized that it was much deeper than that. He’s just a lonely boy craving love and acceptance, and the only way he knows how is through fear and manipulation. He’s a fictional character, but I still felt some kind of kinship with him. And that’s why he’s the perfect book character.
To Connect and Emphasize:
If Malfoy were just an average spoiled brat, then we’d all hate and ignore him. He would be a lost cause, something we wouldn’t bother with. But every now and then, that facade would break and we’d get a glimpse of the pain underneath. Everyone has, at one point in their lives, felt alone and misunderstood. We know that pain Malfoy must feel, and that’s why we sympathize with and pity him.
If you, as a writer, want your readers to feel just as invested in your book as you are, then a Malfoy is a must. Think of it this way: would you rather read a book narrated by Malfoy or by…her:
Name one person you know of that actually likes Umbridge. You can’t, can you? That’s because she was purposely written to be a complete bitch. Imagine reading a book with a protagonist as selfish and evil as Umbridge. You probably wouldn’t even make it past the first two chapters. She isn’t relatable and, therefore, a perfect antagonist.
Remember: don’t be an Umbridge.
A Flawed Character
No one is perfect. A character with no history, no tragedies is just…boring. Would you read a book about a perfectly normal high schooler who went to school, came back home, and repeated the process for two-hundred pages? No, something needs to happen to make them special. We read for entertainment, after all.
An example would be Cho Chang. In the books, she’s an ‘A’ student. Beautiful, talented, dating the school prince. The only reason she was invented was that Harry needed another distraction from his studies and to show that Harry was growing older.
Your protagonist shouldn’t fade into the background, but be the colorful spark of life that attracts and brings together the whole book.
A Character Who Makes Us Laugh and/or Cry
If your readers truly connect with a character, then they’ll cry as hard as they did when Fred Weasley or Sirius Black died. After awhile, we think of them as family, as our friends. And then they’re taken away and we feel actual grief.
While you’re writing, stop and think. Would my readers care if I suddenly killed off this character? If not, then maybe they need a change of personality. Or maybe they should be eliminated from the story altogether.
Make us invested in the lives of the characters and we will gobble it up like candy.