Your Readers Don’t Know Your Characters — And Neither Do You

Your characters are people, too.

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Have you ever read a book that made you feel like you were right there with the characters — listening to their dialogue instead of reading it; seeing their facial expressions instead of just imagining them?

You know the answer to this question if you’ve ever read a book that made you feel the exact opposite — so disconnected from its environment that you could barely get through a page without spacing out or glancing at your phone.

(Sometimes we don’t know we’ve just read a phenomenal book until we start reading a terrible one.)

The tough thing about writing a book is that you’re responsible for introducing people you don’t know very well to people you’ll never actually meet. Creating characters isn’t just about getting to know the imaginary friends inside your head. (Though that’s a fun part of it — I wrote a whole book about it.) You also have to show them off to your readers, by forcing them to get to know them.

That’s hard.

Yet it’s not impossible.

How do you draw a path that allows your characters and your readers to connect on a deep and personal level? This question is hard to answer in a blog post, because its answer comes in many layers. But it all comes down to trust. You have to give readers what feels like an exclusive peek into your characters’ everyday lives — that’s the first layer. Then you peel that back, and slowly allow your reader access to deeper areas of these fictional people’s lives. And then there’s another layer underneath. And so on.

Yeah. Whoever told you that one time in college that writing a book was easy had no idea what they were talking about. WRITING. IS. HARD.

Fun. But … complicated.

It’s going to take at least a few revisions to portray each character exactly how you want them to be when they meet your readers for the first time.

It’s going to take some time to figure out the best way to introduce them.

That’s okay. Normal, even.

Yes, you want to be able to do this as well as John Green somehow always manages to, because gosh darn it, he’s a bestselling author for a reason (whether you like the subjects he writes about or not).

It’s important to remember that the book you’re reading right now — the one featuring scenes that draw you in, with dialogue that seems so clean and brilliant — is maybe the fifth, seventh, heck, maybe even the twentieth revision of some story the author wrote on their barely functional 2011 MacBook Pro (without SpellCheck or anything).

Your book can reach Draw Readers In With a Few Lines of Dialogue status. It will. It just hasn’t yet. Because you haven’t published a final draft.

Don’t worry that it isn’t everything you want it to be yet. Just keep writing.

And keep getting to know those characters. Because you’re going to have to trust them to take control over your story eventually. Make sure it’s in the right, fictional hands.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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