By Tom Threadgill, Author of Collision of Lies
Writers like to say our characters talk to us. We can hear them spouting the things they will or won’t do as we write our stories. Sometimes those voices ruin our plans. (Ever wake up in the middle of the night and have one of your characters say you’ve got the wrong killer? I have.) There’s a problem with that though. If the reader can’t hear the characters too, our stories are flat. Lifeless.
The people in your books must be real, with all the thoughts, emotions, and reactions of living human beings. Want people to bond with Lori, your protagonist? Forget how she looks. Focus on who Lori is. What about her is relatable to readers? Does she love the smell of coffee but hate the taste? Use it somewhere. Does she think her toes are particularly ugly (or pretty)? Maybe have that as a thought when she steps out of the shower one morning.
But take the concept further. What happens when Carly, Lori’s only daughter, is diagnosed with breast cancer? Did the mere reading of that question bring a flood of emotions to you? Perhaps the memories of a friend or relative or even yourself who went through something similar? You can bet that’s a shared experience, so use those feelings to connect to your readers. You are the deeper POV we’re always talking about. So how do you write it? How would you react if you got that call from your daughter?
“Lori couldn’t swallow. Couldn’t breathe. The distant pounding of her heart resounded in her ears with a dull thump. No, Lord. She gripped the back of the sofa as her knees faltered. Not Carly. A blur of activity on TV captured her as a woman in a red dress won the bonus round on Wheel of Fortune. Lori wiped her hand under her nose and turned away. Her chest ached and her mind kicked into gear, chasing the worst-case scenarios to their inevitable endings. No, Lord. Not Carly.”
Let’s talk about that for a minute. Were you able to connect with any part of the paragraph? Maybe the fear of something happening to your kids? Or the memory of what it was like to fight a deadly disease? Or even simply watching Wheel of Fortune?
You know nothing about Lori except what you learned in that snippet. You don’t know her age, what she looks like, where she lives, anything. But you can relate to her because we all have those experiences. That makes Lori real. Someone we care about.
But here’s the thing. You can’t stop with your protagonist. Every character in your novel needs those experiences, whether it’s the waiter who disappears every time you want a drink refill or the airline pilot with the obviously dyed hair or the barista at the coffee shop who you’re sure misspells your name on purpose. They all have something to say. Just make sure your readers can hear them too.
Tom Threadgill is the author of the Jeremy Winter series of thrillers (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas), as well as Collision of Lies, available February 4th from Baker Publishing Group. His books have a distinct focus on clean, suspenseful action with strong character development. In his downtime, Tom enjoys woodworking, riding his Harley, and chasing the elusive Yard of the Month award. He currently resides with his wife in the Dallas area and can be reached on Facebook or through his website at TomThreadgill.com.