Any book lover who’s made the hobby of reading a lifelong habit can name stories that kept him reading well past anything else – dinner, chores, bedtime…
What makes this happen?
Sympathetic characters can help as a start, but while they serve to draw in a reader, the story’s dilemma itself keeps the reader engaged. The reader can’t put the book down until the characters solve the problem.
First, though, the conundrum has to be intriguing. The stakes must be high. The characters must have everything to lose if the problem isn’t solved. For example:
- If I marry the wrong man, my life will be miserable forever.
- If we don’t solve this murder, more innocents will die.
- We must keep the villain from ruining all our lives.
The sympathetic character causes the reader to care. When the reader stops caring about the characters, then the reader no longer cares if, when, or how the problem is solved. Hence, all things work together for the most successful book.
Granted, flat characters serving as a conduit for solving a problem can work, but will the reader remember those characters and their solutions once the book is closed? One of my vivid memories of characters is literally dreaming about them as I slept, so engrossed was I in a Susan Howatch book. The ability to combine memorable characters solving problems readers care about separates a good writer from an astounding talent.
Can you name an author who combines sympathetic characters with intriguing problems to solve?
What work of fiction stuck with you long after you read it?
What character did you think about long after you read a book?