Last weekend, I read Annie Solomon’s TWO LETHEL LIES. It is a romantic suspense, but the way the hero feels about the child in his custody, his feelings about his brother, his feelings about his cold, shallow mother and his feelings about life – are every bit as important to that book as his feelings about Neesy, the heroine, and the suspense that keeps him on the run.
His emotions escalate as he goes from a man happy to be unknown, to keep his distance with people and never stay too long anywhere (because he’s wanted for murder) to being a man who finally slows down long enough to realize what he’s given up and to want more…as he questions his past and life in general.
What engrosses readers in this novel of suspense isn’t just the “what the hell is going on and are these characters all going to survive" element. We care about whether or not the hero survives because we care about him…because as he reveals himself through his reactions/emotions we know he’s a good guy who didn’t want this mess. It was thrust upon him, but he did the right thing and stepped up to protect the child in his custody.
(By the way...it wasn't easy to tell you all that without revealing so much of the story that I spoiled it for you! LOL Go buy it. Read it. Especially if you're writing suspense.)
It doesn't matter what genre you're writing. We need to care about your protagonists. Readers don't care about characters because they are rich or handsome or even followed by trouble. They care about characters who have a heart and soul. Mitch, the hero from TWO LETHAL LIES, opens the book by rescuing a pre-teen who jumps off a bridge. He doesn't want to call attention to himself. He knows the rescue could mean discovery. Though we don't yet know what he's running from, we know he risks himself to save this girl attempting suicide because she is little more than a child.
He gets our emotional attention immiedately. We know this is a hero. A real hero. Not just a good looking guy, who commands attention whenever he walks into a room. Or a man with a history or reputation for doing good things. On page one, Mitch does something good.
Annie Solomon doesn't tell us Mitch "is a good guy." She shows us.
She also doesn't tell us he's in trouble. She demonstrates his trepidation by his reaction to the praise that follows the rescue.
She doesn't tell us he loves Julia, the little girl he's traveling with. She shows us when Julia begs Mitch to stay in the cottage offered by the family of the rescued girl, and he -- though it's against his better judgment -- agrees because he knows Julia doesn't ask much, hasn't ever asked much, though their life of running is hard.
In a couple of pages Annie Solomon has us firmly on Mitch's side because of emotion.
The really great writers among us know that the best way to capture a reader's interest and heart is to give us a hero to root for. Give him a real problem. Show us he's honest, generous, kind, brave, courageous, strong, a person of conviction, and the journey he goes through will have more meaning, more power.
Because that's what you want. Power. For a story to be great it must be interesting, credible, consistent and compelling. A situation can be compelling, but a compelling character will draw us in every time. And a compelling character is what gives a story power.
So create characters with real emotions. Emotions that demonstrate who they are, what they want, why they want it...and readers will follow your story anywhere!