Forging the Reader-Character Bond: In our own work

Forging the Reader-Character Bond.  It’s easier than you might think, and the results are well worth the effort.  Especially if you can dig deep and come up with ways to demonstrate sympathy, jeopardy, etc. that are tailor-made for your specific character, in his specific story world.

That extra specificity might be a little harder and take more effort, but it will make your character much more memorable.  And that’s definitely what we’re going for.

Anyway, here are some ways I came up with to forge the reader-character bond for the stories we’ve been working on:

1. Our human-rights-attorney story:

Set in the mid 1950’s, against the backdrop of the first US Supreme Court case to affirm gay rights, a human rights lawyer joins a wealthy Los Angeles law firm in order to fund his transgender partner’s wrongful termination suit against the federal government, not knowing that the firm’s managing partner is a devil intent on sabotaging the lawsuit.

Setup:  Amos Anderson is a cowardly human rights lawyer whose biggest case is a wrongful termination claim for a transgender client, who is also Amos’s life partner. Amos is running out of money. Amos thought his partner’s case would settle out of court, and he used up all his savings to get the case to this point.

  • Sympathy:  On the way to the courthouse to hear the ruling, we could have Amos say something to his client/partner like, “How should we celebrate after?  This place? That place?”  Then maybe Amos goes to give money to someone begging on the sidewalk, and we get a look into his empty wallet.  It’s so empty, he has to resort to digging into his pocket for change.  After a beat, Amos could then say something like, “Actually, let’s wait until the government’s check clears.  Then we’ll REALLY celebrate,” attempting to imply to his partner that the check should be huge and to distract his partner from the fact he’s broke. By the time the court rules against their favor and instead sends the case to trial, we should feel sorry for Amos, knowing he’s broke and completely unprepared to go further with the case.
  • Jeopardy: The government’s attorneys could threaten Amos on the way out of the courthouse in an attempt to make Amos and his client/partner withdraw their complaint.  What kind of threat?  Probably disclosure of their relationship.  The attorney could just be following a hunch after seeing Amos and his client/partner work together for the past few month, or he might not even care if he’s right about them. A public accusation alone would probably be enough in the 1950s to ruin Amos’s life.  Also, Amos could be so broke, that when he gets back to the office, there’s an eviction notice because he hasn’t had the money to pay his rent.
  • Likability:  Most people have blinders on when they’re on the way to something important.  If Amos notices someone in need on his way to the courthouse and gives that person the last of his money, that could bolster his likability.
  • Fascinating:  How can you be a coward and a human rights lawyer? Idealistic, but lacking courage?  If we can make it work, the contradiction is fascinating.  The perspective of a transgender person’s partner might also be fascinating. I don’t know that it’s been done before.
  • Wish-Fulfillment:  Certain occupations are considered wish-fulfilling, and given the number of lawyer stories out there, being an attorney is probably one of them.  So, for those who might want to be a lawyer and/or fight injustice and/or work at a prestigious law firm, Amos’s story might do it for them.
  • Familiar: Most people have, at one time or another, spared their loved ones the truth, thinking they’re being kind.  To that end, Amos giving someone money, while being likable, could also serve the purpose of him putting on a brave face for his partner–he doesn’t want his partner to know he’s broke. This could be bolstered if Amos doesn’t tell his partner about the eviction notice and instead says everything is fine, that he’s thinking of moving the office into his home, because it would give him more time to work since he’d be wasting less time commuting.
  • Relatable Goal:  Amos wants to right the wrong that’s been done to a loved one.
  • Empathy:  I think everyone knows what it feels like to want to help someone they love and to not have the means or ability to do it right, if at all.

2. Our diamond bullets story:

When his brother’s Pacific Northwest gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bulletproof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Yakima, Washington Chief of Police.

Setup:  Hero is the son of gang leader who’s just been killed, and he’s looking forward to a peaceful existence, now that his dad is dead.  He attends a prestigious private school on scholarship; his girlfriend goes there, too–her dad’s a police chief. Here’s also got an older brother who’s in line to lead the gang and who thinks he knows who killed Dad:  the police chief.

  • Sympathy:  Hero’s an orphan, now that his dad’s been murdered.   Also, hero goes to a school where everyone knows he’s a scholarship kid and treats him differently, harshly.
  • Jeopardy:  Maybe there’s someone following Hero, and Hero thinks it’s their dad’s actual killer.  But nobody believes Hero, because the gang thinks the police chief killed Dad.
  • Likability:  Hero needs a sense of humor in a situation like this.  I’d like to see him volley with the other students at school, keeping a good attitude no matter what they throw at him–which wins some of students to his side, even as he continues to be picked on.  Also I think he’s someone who really tries at school.  He recognizes that his scholarship to this school is a real opportunity for him, given his circumstances.  He’s appreciative and he tries to make the most of it.  Perhaps he lingers after class to engage the teacher in an intellectual (as opposed to brown-nosing) way.  Teachers like him.
  • Fascinating:  If we show him at school, being engaging and liked, and then take him home to gang territory, the juxtaposition of growing up like Hero did and still coming out with a warm and positive and engaging attitude like he shows in school would be fascinating, I think.
  • Wish-Fulfillment:  In a “disastrous” sense, wondering what it’s like to grow up in a gang family could be wish-fulfilling.
  • Familiar:  We’ve probably all known a happy-go-lucky guy like Hero who’s better than his circumstances.
  • Relatable Goal:  To keep the peace, to get out of this predicament his brother’s put him in without having to kill anybody or become alienated from what’s left of his family.
  • Empathy:  I think it would suck to be this kid. A rock and a hard place; everyone knows what it’s like to be between those.


Well, that’s it for me.  What about you?  What ingenious ways have you come up with to make your characters irresistible to your readers?  Tell us in the comments!


We’re going to look at characterizing with character tags.  See you then!

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