Have you ever read a book that had an incredible plot, perfect pacing and epic world-building, but somehow it just wasn’t doing it for you? Most of the time when that happens to me, it comes down to one thing: I just don’t care about the main character.
Caring about the main character in a book is so important, because after all, why are you going to waste your time reading hundreds of pages when you ultimately don’t care about the outcome? If you have no feelings whatsoever towards a character, then there’s nothing driving you to follow their story, however good the plotting or world-building is.
But what exactly is it that makes you care about a character? In a lot of ways I think it differs from reader to reader, but here’s a few common ways I’ve found, and I’d be interested to get your thoughts!
- Are they likeable?
I don’t necessarily think a character has to be likeable for you to care about them (see my next point for an example!), but it certainly helps! If you like a character then presumably you want them to stick around so you can read more about them, and would be pretty annoyed/upset if they were killed off. In other words, you care about them!
- Are they sympathetic?
Emotions are at the heart of our reactions to characters, so emoting sympathy is another way to make us as readers care about a character and what happens to them. If we’re capable of feeling sorry for a character, or bad about the situation they’ve found themselves in, then presumably we want to see their situation improve, and are invested in their story.
A great example of this is Rachel from The Girl On The Train. Whilst she’s far from a likeable character, it’s easy to feel sorry for her, and so you find yourself really hoping she manages to get herself together and figure out what exactly is going on before it’s too late. Therefore, we care about her (or I did anyway!).
- Are they complex?
It’s virtually impossible to become emotionally invested in perfect, flawless heroes and cardboard cut out characters, because they just aren’t realistic. Therefore, for me to care about a character they have to seem as if they could be a living, breathing human being, even if they come from the planet Zog, and they’re a space cowboy. That means they have to be complex, and complete with all the flaws and quirks and insecurities that come along with being a person!
- Are they active?
By this I’m not referring to the character’s level of fitness – I mean, ‘are they an active participant in their own story?’ Characters who have a lot of stuff happen to them, but don’t really do anything about it can easily come across as dull and weak: they’re passive. However, a character who doesn’t just sit back and let things happen is not only more interesting, but is much easier to root for than the one who just sits back and complains about the unfairness of it all.
- Are they relatable?
Characters don’t necessarily have to be 100% relatable to you personally for you to care (as in, they don’t have to be your exact age/gender/ethnicity etc.), they just have to have convincing human emotions that you can understand. For example, a lot of people can relate to ‘underdog’ type characters, because most of us have felt like the underdog at some point in our lives, or can at least understand the feeling of inferiority.
So what makes you care about a character? And do you agree that it’s vital to care about the main character to enjoy a book?