Have you ever read a story or seen a movie where you couldn’t “get into” the main character?
The plot may be interesting, the setting could be exotic, the dialogue compelling, but if you don’t have any empathy for the main character, the audience will soon close the book or walk out of the theater.
The way to get the audience involved in your story is to get them to care about your characters. But what’s the secret in getting the audience involved in your story?
Also known as reader sympathy, this is a psychological process wherebe the audience experiences the same emotions and feelings as the characters who they’re idendifying with. When you can capture reader sympathy for your characters, you will hook them into your story. This is called, “Identification.”
One of the first goals of a writer is to get the reader involved in the story by creating a bond between the reader and the characters. After you have captured the hearts of the audience, your goal is to elicit emotions in the reader by showing your characters experiencing emotions. If the audience has no sympathy for the hero, then the story will be flat. How is this emotional bond created?
How To Create Identification
According to the story consultant, Michael Hague, there are three main techniques for creating identification:
Show the hero in pain – Emotional pain works well for this, but you can also show the character suffering from some kind of physical trouble.
Put the hero in danger – When someone is in danger, we instantly feel sorry for them.
Make the hero admirable – There are many ways to do this. The character might be aristocratic, funny, smart, strong, attractive or skilled at something.
These techniques are good for creating audience identification with your hero in the early stages of the story, but to maintain this bond throughout the rest of the story, you will need to do more.
John Truby, the premier story consultant in Hollywood, says that the audience will identify with two things:
The Need – This is something that the character lacks. It is caused by a character flaw, or a weakness with harms the character and often, other people. Arrogance is a character flaw. The need of the character in this case is to overcome their mistreatment of others because of it.
The Desire – The quest of the hero is the other thing that the audience identifies with. Make the goal as strong as possible. Find ways to increase the tension by adding more dire consequences if the character fails to reach the goal.
In every story you write, take these steps when designing your tale:
1. How is the character suffering?
2. How is the hero in pain?
3. How is the protagonist in danger?
4. What is the weakness of the hero?
5. What does the character need to learn?
6. What is the character’s goal?
What To Do Now
Take out a sheet of paper and answer the above questions. Make sure that the hero’s quest is clear and unambiguous. When creating character flaws (weaknesses), remember that these could be either “positive” or “negative” things. For instance, if the hero is too generous, he might be constantly giving away his money. If a hero is cynical, they won’t trust others.
– Mark O’Bannon