Every story is someone’s story. Whether we are writing about war, child abuse, romance, murder, or any other topic, we must make readers care about a character. Readers want someone to root for, to bond with, to love. Once they have found that, they will be eager to read further.
Sometimes it’s hard for us writers to decide whose story we are writing. We create a lot of characters while writing our novels, and we fall in love with all of them, even the villains. We feel disloyal to our creations if we give one character more consideration than others, and we believe the story needs all those points of view. But the reader knows only what is on the page, not what is in our minds, and all those equally significant characters become confusing. Readers need to know whose story it is. Or whose story it mostly is.
One way for us to decide this is to figure out which character has the most at stake and which one will change the most. If we are lucky, the two will be the same, and we will know whose story it is. If not, we have to make the character who will change the most into the main story character while upping that character’s stakes.
A character with nothing to lose is not one people will care about. If someone in the story parachutes out of a plane for fun, readers might find it entertaining, but they won’t be concerned. But if someone wearing a faulty parachute jumps out of a plane into flames to save a child lost in the middle of a forest fire, everyone except the most curmudgeonly will care.
The same is true of character growth. A character who remains static, who learns nothing from experience, is not someone readers can love. A story is always about change, and since a story is also about a character, that character must grow, or should at least change in some small way. A timid character might learn to stand up for himself. An arrogant character might learn a touch of humility. The essence of the character does not need to change. A timid reporter who turns into superman is the stuff of comic books, not a realistic novel. But a character who grows, who learns, who comes back from his or her experiences with something to share, that is a character readers care about.
And that’s whose story it is.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.