by Christopher Slater
I’m sure that anyone reading this is aware of the importance of characters in a story. A writer can come up with the most imaginative and mind-blowing storyline that the world has ever seen, but if you don’t have characters that the reader feels a connection to and shares an interest in, then your story will fall flat and not find an audience.
So how do you do this? How can you make your characters someone that your readers will want to follow? How do you make them someone that your readers will remain curious about?
One thing that has never ceased to amaze me is the obsession people have with celebrities. Sure, most of us laugh at the tabloid headlines with their absurd claims of relationships, scandals, and other baseless claims, but we still follow the information about celebrities from more “legitimate” news sources.
There is something about people that have achieved some level of fame that entrances us and makes us want to know what they are doing. Sometimes what they are doing is nothing more unusual than what we ourselves or our own acquaintances do, but we just want to know anyways. Maybe it is so that we can feel some kind of connection to these larger than life individuals.
So what does this have to do with characters in your stories? Am I suggesting that every character that you or I write about be some kind of celebrity? Should they all be larger than life? That isn’t necessary. My students have shown me that some of the most average individuals can achieve a certain level of celebrity status just by being who they are. It is an odd thing to see, but it does happen often.
Think back to the days when you were in school. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone how far back you might have to imagine. Did you ever run into one of your teachers out in public? It was an odd situation, wasn’t it? How were you supposed to act around them? What were you supposed to say? Did you discuss class? Did you try to talk about whatever was going on in the place where you saw them? Did you do what you could to avoid them completely?
No matter what you did, you undoubtedly treated that teacher a little bit differently than you would have most other people that you saw in the same place. Why is that? I think it is because teachers have achieved a certain type of celebrity. I don’t mean that they are famous or that people get tongue-tied when they meet them. I mean that students have a certain image of who a teacher is, and it is never an image that conforms to how the students see themselves. They are someone “different.”
I have had students admit to me that they wouldn’t be surprised if teachers slept at the school, and these are 8th graders! Students will even text one another if they see a teacher out in public because it surprises them so much to see a teacher doing the same type of thing that they are doing.
Obviously, I don’t think it would be a good idea to make every character that you create a teacher. That would be just a little awkward and restrictive. What I do think you should consider is making your characters just a little bit different from the average reader. You don’t have to imbue your character with superhuman abilities or unusual talents unmatched by anyone else in order to make them a celebrity.
All your character really has to be is someone that your reader might not expect to do any of the normal, everyday things that people do. As a result, when they do those everyday things it will amaze the reader and grab there attention in a way that never happens when that reader is doing the same activity.
Doubt me? Run into one of your old teachers at the grocery store and see if you don’t behave just a little bit differently around them!
Guest post contributed by Christopher Slater. Christopher is a Middle School History teacher in Tennessee. He’s also a husband, father, and author.