#1: Give your character an unsympathetic goal.
In one of my early manuscripts, my heroine’s story goal was to become an outlaw. Yep. I gave her all kinds of backstory to support this goal. She was an outlaw’s daughter. She’d been raised on the run. She loved the freedom of an outlaw’s life and chafed at the bonds of respectability that had since been placed on her.
None of the backstory I crafted made a bit of difference. Readers couldn’t get behind or bring themselves to care about her goal to become an outlaw. It distanced them from her story.
Goals like sabotage, revenge, escape from responsibilities, and amassing profit are all difficult for readers to root for.
What’s stronger: A goal that’s full of integrity and heart-tugging emotion.
#2. Create a character who stubbornly refuses to like someone the reader finds likable.
Those of us who write romance know that our hero and heroine can’t fall happily and immediately in love without obstacles. If they did, our stories would be ten pages long and boring. So, at the outset of our novels, we often give our heroine a reason to hate our hero (or vice versa). And perhaps, at the beginning, that reason is logical and believable.
But as the story progresses, the reader will likely be spending time inside the hero’s point of view. The reader will come to like and relate to the hero. The reader will know that he’s a good guy.
Thus, a heroine who stubbornly refuses to see the same positive qualities in the hero that the reader sees will end up frustrating and distancing the reader.
What’s stronger: Layers of conflict between the hero and heroine. Think of these layers like a layer cake. Let your characters make their way through one layer of conflict only to be confronted with another. Some of these conflict layers might have to do with: circumstances, character flaws, past baggage. If your characters can confront and overcome their reservations in mature, forthright ways, they’ll keep your reader engaged.
#3. Create a plot with an obvious path to a happy ending, then follow the most predicable path to that ending.
For example: Imagine that our hero and heroine both arrive to claim a piece of property they’ve been given. They each thought the property had been given to them alone, until they meet one another. Now they each have to defend their claim to the property.
The clear resolution to this situation? They fall in love, marry, and end up sharing the property. Right? If readers expect this to happen, and then, this is exactly what ends up happening, it’s distancing. It puts the reader on auto-pilot. The reader might still be flipping pages, but it’s just an exercise. The reader isn’t worried. They’re not trying to figure out, along with the characters, how this story can possibly end well. They already know how it’ll end.
What’s stronger: To create twists and turns. To confront your characters with choices that take them down difficult paths. To craft an ending that is, while still satisfying, maybe not so perfectly EASY. A character who sacrifices to achieve a resolution is a richer character and has earned their way to a richer ending.
Have you found that any of the above distance you from a novel? What other things pull you out of a story?
Becky Wade makes her home in Dallas, Texas with her husband and three children. She’s the Carol Award and Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award winning author of My Stubborn Heart, Undeniably Yours, Meant to Be Mine, and the soon-to-be-released A Love Like Ours! Learn more about Becky on her website.