By Connilyn Cossette
Have you read a book in which the characters seem flat? Lifeless? I certainly have. The plot may be great and the writing lyrical, but if the characters do not leap from the page the story will either leave readers unsatisfied or end up in the graveyard-of-unfinished-books.
Since our goal is to provide an experience where readers feel connected to the characters and close the book with a contented sigh, we must ensure that all of our main characters are relatable in some way to our readers, even the villains. Especially the villains!
I have discovered one of the keys to creating this beautiful three-sided connection between author, character, and reader is to delve deeply into their wounds. And by “their” wounds, I mean all three points of that magic triangle.
If you’ve been developing a character but their goals and motivations seem muddled or uninspiring, dig into their past. Even if those wounds are not a major part of the immediate plot, understanding how those hurts affect current decisions adds deeper layers to your characters. And layers are what transform a good story into a great story.
When I began writing Counted with the Stars, I was clueless about wounds and motivations, but once I discovered this key, I had a great time imagining all sorts of terrible things to inflict on my poor characters in the past and discovering how these wounds affect their interactions with other characters. My story went from a tale of an Egyptian following the Hebrews on the Exodus, to a journey that explores the identity of a young woman who was sold into slavery by her own father and therefore is desperate for freedom and unconditional love.
The next point of the triangle is the reader. Especially as writers of inspirational fiction our goal is, in some way, to leave readers with a sense of something “deeper” and not just a fun reading experience. Every reader has their own wounds and processes stories through the filter of their own experiences.
As I write, I imagine what sort of reader might connect with my characters’ wounds. Someone who feels in bondage to something? Someone who is unsure of their true identity? Someone who has been rejected? Someone who doesn’t comprehend the depths of God’s love? Truly, these are things that most people can relate to in some way. Even if a reader cannot relate to the external plot of your book, if you’ve written something that takes a readers wounds into consideration it will help them connect on a heart-level to your characters.
The last part of the triangle is the author. Honestly, this can be the hardest part. Poking around in our wounds is not fun and can be downright painful. But as followers of Jesus, we should not be holding onto hurts, or nurturing black places in our hearts that need the light of forgiveness. We should be using the lessons we’ve learned and the truths we’ve been taught to speak into others’ lives.
Of course not every story lends itself to bleeding our hurts and pains all over the page; but allowing glimpses of our life-stories can give depth to our written stories and be a healing and freeing experience for us. Touching upon some of the tender areas in my own heart, as I developed Kiya and other characters in the Out from Egypt Series, has certainly been a cathartic experience for me.
So dig deep! Exploring the wounds of the characters, the readers, and the author will result in stories that are satisfying, relatable, and will compel readers to savor every last page.
There is nothing Connilyn Cossette likes better than digging into the rich ancient world of the Bible and uncovering buried gems of grace that point toward Jesus. Her debut novel Counted With the Stars: Out from Egypt Series, releases April 5th through Bethany House Publishers. Connect with her at www.connilyncossette.com.