Friday, May 4, 2012

Know Your Reader, Know Your Characters

Today we're talking about characters. Getting to know my characters and tell their story is one of my favorite parts about writing a book. In the first two posts of this series, focusing on genre and settings, we discovered how knowing our reader will help us with multiple aspects of our story.

Knowing what our readers want in a story, what they're like and what interests them will help us discover what kinds of characters they want to see in a story.

So if you already visited the first post in this series, think again about your reader. Mine is in her late twenties to early forties, SAHM, loves an escape, loves a romance, wants a happy ending, enjoys humor, and is crafty. She's a romantic comedy reader.

From this I can see that the kind of reader who would want to read what I write is going to want several things.

*A character or characters who are either from close families or are interested in family. They want to settle down by the end of the book.

*A character who is crafty, too. Someone with a hobby or small side interest. Knitting, scrapbooking, photography, gardening. Anything that will give them some extra dimension and make them more relatable to the reader.

*A character who can dream, who is strong, who wants the best for herself, even if she doesn't realize it at the beginning of the story.

*A character who is fairly young or within the same age group as the reader.

*A character with an interesting job, or something the reader can relate to. Not to say it should be something overused, but definitely something a reader would be interested in reading about. (That's why there are so many books about characters owning bookstores or renovating buildings or inns.)

I could continue, but these are big ones for the genre I write.

So think about the specifics you discovered about your reader. What their job is, their hobbies, their genre preference, etc. And now see if you can come up with some ideas about what your reader would want to see in your main characters.

I'd love to see some of you share your genre and what your reader wants in a character in the comments below.

***photos by andrewrennie and Carissa Marie


Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Hhhhhmmm, I think my character is going to need a hobby! I love that idea, because it can either be an expression of who they are OR it can be total opposition of what others perceive them to be. Very cool.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Cindy, we did to write a book together! LOL Or better yet, I need to read your stories!!! I love the kind of characters you're describing.

Jeanne T said...

Cindy, you bring up some great thoughts. ;) I'm writing women's fiction, focusing on a married couple who learns how to fall in love again. I am trying to figure out how to add more dimension to my characters. I like the idea of scrapbooking and photography for my heroine, but I haven't written those aspects in, yet. Hmmm, you've just given me an idea. :) Your ideas are helpful. Thanks so much!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sherrinda, that's a cool idea. Give your characters a hobby that no one would expect of them. You should do that! :)

Jennifer, I've always wondered what it would be like to write a story with another writer. Especially one who writes in the same genre as me. Your characters always sound so fun, too! I really want to read your newest story.

Hi Jeanne, yay! I love ideas :), and I ADORE stories about couples trying to fall in love again. They always touch my heart.

Unknown said...

Loved this, Cindy. Great teaching and tips. I write contemporary romance with lots of humor...I consider my audience women ages 25-45 who like a little sass in their fiction. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Oooh, Melissa. I love that. That should be your little writer's tag.

Melissa Tagg
Contemporary Romance Writer
Romance with a lot of humor and a little sass.

Cute. And your characters sound fun :)

Heidi Chiavaroli said...

I write historical fiction, but I would still consider my audience to be female and fairly young, wanting a strong, faithful character who fights to protect her values and the ones she loves.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

That's great, Heidi. I love how each genre has certain characteristic for their characters that are key. Readers know what they want and even if they can't pinpoint it, they'll know when they read it.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I actually had a hobby for my MC, and with your post ideas I can see how I could thread it into the tapestry of the plot to add color.
Good post.

Ashley Clark said...

What a great post, Cindy! This is something I really need to focus on. I think it's so true that we have to think about what our readers want in a story so they feel drawn in. Thanks for these great tips. I think our writing styles are similar enough that I can really learn a lot from your list!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Mary. That's great your MC already has a hobby. I think, even a little bit of else--whether it be a hobby or a quirk--really adds dimension to a character.

Ashley, I totally agree. Reading your post the other day made me really think about my characters and if they were deep enough. If they were reaching my readers. Here's to romantic comedy! :)

Casey said...

Giving my characters a quirk or something unique that only they can do in the story and relatable to the reader can be tough--and be "fresh" and uncliche at the same time. But it is fun to brainstorm those things with other writers/readers. Good things to think about. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

I agree, Casey, it can definitely be tough. I think that's where our voice comes in. There might be ten writers out there giving their character the same quirk, but they're all going to have their own unique twist on it and a different kind of style.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Oooh, so fun! My target reader is married, aged anywhere from 20s to 40s (or beyond, I don't mind!). I do target women, but I'm finding there are a lot of men who are anxious to read about Vikings (my historical time period).

I definitely have a burden for married readers. I think that's where the "real romance" begins. But it's also where the major conflict and warring emotions often take over. I want to write very real fiction that rings true, no matter what time period. It's why I always tend toward first-person, present-tense. I love the immediacy of it!

And I'd definitely agree w/Heidi--my characters are warriors, in their own ways. Some might have more "mad skills" with weapons than others, but they'll do anything for their children.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Heather, it's great you're so in tune to who your audience is. And Vikings? I could definitely see men wanting to check that out. Thanks for stopping by--having a great weekend!

Julia M. Reffner said... character does have a hobby, gardening. She loves spending time outside and flowers are an important part of the story. But in her culture its forbidden to have hobbies, gardening is a socially acceptable hobby she can pursue in rare moments. But this made me think of something else...I don't have her develop a new hobby on the "outside" and she should. Now that she has the freedom...sometimes to explore. Thanks for getting me thinking. Your posts are always great for that, Cindy :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Julia, that's what I love about the posts and conversations here-- they always get us thinking. So much fun to brainstorm together!

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

I hadn't thought about giving my latest Heroine a hobby. I mean, she's just stepped into a totally new world, and she's got enough to do to figure out the new rules of life in an American high school... But a small hand crafty item to occupy her fingers (and give her some "processing time") could be really neat, too.

I write folktale-based fantasy. I see my target audience as Christian young folks between the ages of 13 and 21 (too broad?) who are marriage-minded.

That is, like most fairy tales marriage (or expected HEA marriage) is part of the storyline. My readers would have to expect that and (I hope) want it for the couple's "ultimate happiness."

I haven't been able to test it out on any young men yet (none in my world), but my two adult male readers have enjoyed my stuff, so I'm hopeful.

Now I know what she'll do: handspinning (with a spindle). It's something I know, easily portable, and something every culture has adapted in some way. Its obscure, but not unheard of.

(Thanks, Cindy. This is a really cool addition. But what about the hero...? Do you think h.s. clubs and basketball count as enough of a hobby?)