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Couples Counseling for Characters and Readers


I’m sure, at some point during your life, you’ve met someone to whom you felt completely apathetic. You never made an attempt to become his or her friend because that person’s existence was completely inconsequential to your own.

That’s precisely the relationship you want to avoid between your characters and your readers.

Why Character/Reader Relationships Matter

It is virtually impossible to meet a human being who is everything to everyone, but this isn’t the case when writing fiction. Your main character—protagonist, hero, heroine, whatever—must touch all of your readers with some degree of depth. And the same goes for the rest of your characters, though to a lesser extent.

Take a romantic comedy, for example, This type of film is created for one reason: To make the audience feel good. Two characters meet, sometimes in a charmingly serendipitous manner, and the whole point of the movie is to discover that, by the end, they will be well on their way to happily ever after. Why? Because the audience becomes attached to these characters and wants to see them succeed.

Or an action movie. You watch this type of film because you want to see the hero overcome formidable odds to save the world. It doesn’t matter how many cars destroys, buildings he reduces to ruins, bad guys kills—so long as, at the end of the day, he stands victorious.

Movies create relationships between characters and the audience. Fiction works, on the other hand, create relationships between characters and readers.

Your plot might plow your readers down a series of bumpy, fascinating roads, twisting and turning them through every obstacle and plight imaginable. But if your readers don’t care about your characters, those plot twists lose valuable ground.

Appealing to the Masses

I mentioned above that it is difficult to create characters who appeal to all readers, and this is true. But for the master storyteller, it is simply a matter of looking deeper. There might be aspects of your characters that shock, disgust, intimidate, frustrate or even repel your readers, but those qualities must be overcome by some sort of redemption.

For example, maybe your main character is course, rigid, rude and short-tempered. He doesn’t relate well to others, nor does he enjoy socializing. None of these qualities is particularly appealing to the average Jane or John, but you can redeem him with a desire to do good and a tendency to fight evil from the shadows.

It’s like that woman in the grocery store line who takes forever counting coupons and insists on writing checks for her purchases when she knows that everyone uses debit cards these days. Then she hands you an unused coupon because she sees the matching product in your cart and you’re overcome with guilt for the nasty thoughts running through your mind.

In other words, your characters don’t have to be angels with gilded crowns floating above their heads, but they do need to possess qualities to which your readers will feel affection.

The Power of Redemption

In some cases, you can connect readers with your characters through redemption—the main character’s desire to right past wrongs through good deeds.

An excellent example of redemption as both a plot device and a source of empathy is the television show “Angel”. The brutal and vicious vampire is cursed with a soul and forced to endure blinding torment for the pain and suffering he has caused others over more than two centuries of violence. The audience doesn’t like what Angel has done, but is willing to root for him based on his mission.

Maybe your main character is a convicted murderer who sees the error of his ways and vows to help others navigating the prison system. Or perhaps your hero is a spoiled rich girl whose friendship with a homeless man brings her down a few pegs—and causes her to fight for a selfless cause.

Whatever the situation, redemption strikes a chord with readers because none of us is perfect. We all struggle on a daily basis with the difference between right and wrong, and even if we do not face the same epic battles as the characters, we understand the struggles they face.

The Good Guy

Some writers prefer not to dabble in moral ambiguity, and instead formulate heroes as the quintessential “white hats” of traditional fiction. There is nothing wrong with this tactic, and many famous writers have used it to extraordinary success.

The tendency here, however, is to make your “white hat” a little too white. As mentioned above, none of us is free of questionable ethics and we all succumb to the dark side every now and again. If your hero is too perfect, your reader will have trouble identifying with him.

For example, in Dean Koontz’s THE GOOD GUY, Tim Carrier is faced with an ethical quandary from the get-go. A man in a bar has mistaken him for a hired gun, an assassin, and he has to decide whether to walk away or to save the woman whose life hangs in the balance.

Carrier doesn’t consider himself a hero and he prefers quietude and solitude to excitement. However, being an upstanding citizen and genuinely good guy, he decides to help Linda Paquette and finds himself in danger as well.

Your hero has to struggle with decisions, to consider the wrong ones before ultimately choosing the path of righteousness. Otherwise, he isn’t human.


Does your story require couples counseling? Do your readers feel detached when they read it? If so, you can easily rework your story to create reasons for your readers to cheer the hero on, to empathize with his plight.

A great way to do this is to place yourself in your hero’s shoes. If actually faced with his predicament, what might occur to you? How might you deal with the situation upon first learning of it? What thoughts might run through your mind?

Approach your story as though you were the hero, and the pieces might fall into place more easily.

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