What keeps me glued to a story start to finish? Characters I care about. It’s totally about characters, whether it’s a romance, a thriller or women’s fiction. If I can’t care about the characters, then why on earth would I care about what happens to them?
In a romance, I want a hero I can fall in love with and I want a heroine who is strong, resourceful and generous who can laugh at herself. In a mainstream, thriller, intrigue or drama, I want a protagonist who is portrayed as someone I’d like to have as a friend. Heroes and heroines don’t have to be perfect, gorgeous, young, wealthy or powerful. They should be flawed, but aware of their failings and trying to be better people. I am especially drawn to heroes who have been hurt and have found or are finding the courage to overcome the things that have broken their hearts and spirits.
When an author lets me into the heart and soul of his or her characters early in the story that makes me stay with the story when things begin to fall apart. Think about some of the events one reads about in the paper, or sees on the eleven o’clock news. A child has been abducted, a family was seriously injured in an auto accident, a policeman was ambushed and killed in a big city, or a volunteer fireman was crushed by falling timbers in a raging fire while he was trying to rescue a trapped old man. All of these events are the things we feel sorry about, but how many of them do we remember a few days later?
But consider Jeff Bauman and Carlos Arredondo whose faces captured the world’s attention the day after the Boston Marathon bombing. Arredondo in a cowboy hat doing his best to staunch blood from Bauman’s shattered legs was caught on camera and immediately they became the face of that horrific event. For some, perhaps many, that picture and the momentary thoughts they gave to the two men were the end of the story. But then we got to know more about them. We found out that Carlos Arredondo had lost a son in Iraq and was still suffering from that heartbreak when he launched himself into the middle of the chaos to save Jeff Bauman’s life. In the days and weeks that followed we began to see the depths of courage Jeff Bauman exhibited as he came to terms with the loss of his legs. As the personalities of these two men and their stories were revealed, we became engrossed in them and we began to pray for them and hope for the best. We wanted them both to become triumphant over the evil that had befallen them. They were no longer strangers we cared about only in passing.
That’s what an author has to do to keep me riveted to a story. They have to reveal the heartbreaks, the pain, the goodness, the courage, the generosity of their characters and make me care. Then I can’t put the book down because I simply have to know what happens to these people I’ve come to love. I enjoy a good thriller and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher stories are at the top of my list of favorites, but it’s not because Child fills his books with action or endows Reacher with incredible fighting skills. It’s because he makes me care about Jack Reacher as a person. A man with a past and a present I might not fully understand, but yet, a man I can care about. He’s had his losses and heartbreaks, he’s been places and seen things that have done their best to break his spirit, but he’s remained an honorable man in spite of them and he’s always setting aside his own life to help others. That’s what keeps me glued to Jack Reacher stories. It’s the same with David Baldacci’s Oliver Stone. Oliver Stone is a very different character from Jack Reacher and his past is revealed bit by bit over the course of several books, but in the beginning, in the very first book of the series, in the first couple chapters Baldacci made me care about Oliver by showing me the caliber of the man Oliver is and hinting at the suffering and loss in his past. Whatever the current intrigue or conflict, I am cheering for Oliver Stone and his odd collection of friends because the author created characters I could care about and become totally engrossed in.
When it comes to romance, I almost never read about rich and powerful men. I’m more taken with men who’ve made something of themselves without wealth and family influence. A soldier, a cowboy, a man who builds houses – their status means little, it’s their personality that counts for me. Men who can be strong when they have to, yet have their weaknesses. Men who aren't afraid to show their feelings and men who put the ones they love above themselves. The same goes for my heroines. There are very few women in this world blessed with stunning beauty, so I’d rather read about real women. Strong, capable, amusing, intelligent and loving. It’s not her beauty that makes Cinderella a character the world is forever in love with, it’s the struggles she faces and her cheerful resilience in the face of adversity. It was not Johnny Castle’s charm and good looks that won the hearts of women in Dirty Dancing, it was his humility, his humanity and caring more about Frances "Baby" Hauseman than himself. And it wasn’t Julia Robert’s beauty that made me care about Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, it was the strength of her character, her determination to be someone in spite of her background and her willingness to teach a man who knew little of love what loving was meant to be even if it broke her heart.
So, for me, it’s all about the characters. Whatever the genre, if I don’t come to care for the characters early on in the book, it matters little how gorgeous the scenery, or how dire the circumstances, I’m probably not going to finish the book. And the books that stick with me long after I’ve closed the covers and put them back on the shelf are the books peopled by unforgettable characters I fell in love with and couldn’t turn my back on.
What keeps you glued to a story? Don't hesitate to leave a comment below. And in the mean time, why not check out some of these other authors and see what keeps them turning pages.
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/q
Ginger Simpson http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/
Margaret Fieland http://www.margaretfieland.com/blog1/
Helena Fairfax http://helenafairfax.com/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosnski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.webs.com/
Lynn Crain http://www.awriterinvienna.blogspot.com
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/