Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How to Create Characters like Frodo and Sam that Readers Will Get Behind for Years to Come

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So today is Pioneer Day in Utah, the day we celebrate the settlement of our state. Back in 1847, the Mormon Pioneers crossed the Great Plains in handcarts and covered wagons, and settled in an arid, desert territory that no one else wanted, so that they would be free from religious persecution.

In preparation for this holiday, I heard someone read the lyrics of a primary song that is relevant to the holiday. This is a very simplistic song that we teach our young children to sing. It's called To Be a Pioneer. It goes like this:
1. You don’t have to push a handcart, Leave your fam’ly dear,Or walk a thousand miles or more To be a pioneer! 
2. You do need to have great courage, Faith to conquer fear,And work with might for a cause that’s right To be a pioneer! 
We are marching, ever marching.We are marching, ever marching,Marching onward, ever onward.We are pioneers;



Frodo and Sam were
definitely pioneers!
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The person who quoted this in a talk was saying how especially verse two applies to us today. We need to have courage and faith in the face of all the negativity in our society and work toward a good cause. 



That got me thinking about characters. We always say that great characters are ones that are human--they must have some flaws--but they are also ones that your readers can really get behind and root for. Generally this means they must be likable in some way. Perhaps even heroic in some way, even if they have other things about them that aren't so chivalrous. Of course, good anti-heroes may only have one attribute in a hundred that's even remotely likable, but people root for them anyway.

So, how do you write a character that people really love and will root for?

Easy: MAKE THEM PIONEERS!

So many authors make the mistake of not doing this when they craft their characters. If you're having a hard time making a character really likable, make sure that the following are true of them:

1) "...great courage, Faith to conquer fear."Another way to think of this is positive belief against all logic, in the face of great trial or odds that are against them. Doesn't matter what it is. The specifics will depend on your story. But if you want people to like your character, and all he or she does is sit around socializing all day with no real challenges, it's going to be hard to make your readers respect him.

2) "And work...for a cause that's right." Give him or her a cause to work toward. This can be winning someone's heart, a quest of some kind, a mystery to be solved, just about anything, but make sure they are working toward a cause. (Also, the cause, as the song says, should be good. Someone working toward equal rights for serial killers is probably not going to engender a lot of sympathy. Make sure the cause is something your readers will either root for, or at least understanding why your character is so invested in it.)

3) "Work with might..." I love that line! Make sure they put their whole heart and soul into it. It will not be possible in all stories for them to risk their lives for the cause, just depending on the story, genre, character, cause, etc., but the more they're willing to do for the cause, the more sympathetic they'll be as a character and the more compelling the story will be to a reader.

So, in conclusion, if you need to beef up a character and make them more compelling, make them into pioneers in their own worlds! After all, people always root for a pioneer, and one who keeps faith in the face of overwhelming odds will never cease to be popular with any audience!

What other attributes do you think constitute a pioneer?

2 comments :

  1. Those are excellent! I never thought of a pioneer that way, but I will from now on.

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  2. Oh pioneer
    I sing your song
    ...
    I will love when people hate me
    I won't hush, no you can't make me
    Send the dark but it won't break me
    You can try but you can't change me


    Happy Pioneer Day! You have made me see Pioneers in a whole new light and the lyrics for the above song applies to one of my favourite characters but now that I have read your post it applies even more :).

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