Tips by: Naomi
Originally posted on: Confessions of an Opinionated Book Geek.
Here’s the thing about Harry Potter. Sure, the magic is great, the villain frightening and the action hard to look away from. But, do you know what really made J.K. Rowling’s series sell billions of copies? We cared about Harry Potter. From the moment that kid is introduced underneath that staircase, we wanted more. We love Hermonie and Ron, not only, because they are the loyal, amazing and fierce best friend a boy ever had, it’s because they love Harry. Those two kids became his family. Gave him somewhere to belong and finally someone remembered that kids birthday. J.K. Rowling discovered a secret that other authors are struggling with. It’s not just about the fancy world and the cool tricks. It’s about making the audience care in the most realistic, honest and authentic way.
When I was 15, I took my first film class and made my first film. I wanted to make an emotional drama that would pull my audience in, so I wrote a story about a mother who could not connect with her adopted daughter. It was bad. Horrible. I knew nothing about adoption, what it means to be a mother or even to be a kid who cannot connect to her parent. I didn’t even bother to look into how the adoption processes works. I had an an idea about how I wanted my audience to react and because of that I failed. It took me years to realize that if I write a story I really want to tell and made my characters relatable then the audience will be pulled in. Without manipulation.
So here are some thing’s I have learned over the years.
1. No tricks or gimmicks, just life.
Authors today seem to think that their characters have to have messed up pasts in order to make us care. Parents are often abusive, nonexistent or dead. Here’s another thing about Harry Potter. Harry’s parents are not just dead, they are dead, because they were warriors. Because they stood against evil and because Harry’s mother sacrificed herself to save her son. Harry’s parents being dead was used as more than a gimmick to make him an orphan. The death of those two characters resonates through out the series. The one action of killing the Potters set off a sequence of events that explains the heroes, the villains and the reasoning behind everything that happens.
This is important. Sure, we feel for Harry, because he’s an orphan, but he’s not an orphan just so that we can feel. It’s not pure manipulation. There is reasoning and plot points surrounding his not having living parents.
Many authors do not get this. They think “oh we’ll make him alone and the reader will feel bad.” But, guess what? Readers are not stupid. We know when we’re being manipulated, when something does not make sense and worse when something does not work.
Don’t try to manipulate your audiences feelings. Just write a story and give your characters a back story that will work for them and the story you are trying to tell.
2. Don’t try so hard to make your characters unique.
Not everyone can be Buffy. Not everyone can be the hero, the chosen one, the savior. Harry Potter is the boy who lived, but Neville could have easily have been the boy who lived. There is nothing really special about Harry. He’s a normal kid that circumstances happen to and because of that he has to rise above. For some reason, authors seem to think that amazing things don’t happen to normal people. For some reasons characters have to be outcasts. They have to be on the outside looking in and lonely. Why?
Also, let me explain what does not make a person unique. A girl who does not wear make-up and prefers to play football with the boys is not unique. Plenty of girls prefer to just hang out in sneakers instead of wearing heels. That does not mean she is special and it doesn’t mean that girls who wear heels are stupid or a part of some kind of machine. The girl in heels is just as intelligent as the girl in sneakers. You know what else doesn’t make people stand out? The guy who wears a leather jacket and plays guitar. Stop taking normal activities and dress and making a chosen one.
Why can’t your heroine be a cheerleader? Why can’t your hero be the student body president? Why can’t your main characters have more than one friend and actually go out on the weekends? Why do they have to be lonely, awkward freaks? Because let me tell you, Tumblr is an example of loner awkward kids, finding each other. Am I wrong? Haven’t you read a post and thought “wow, I get this person!” Sometimes, it would be cool to open up a book and read about something extraordinary happening to a normal person without the author trying to convince me they exist in a plain higher than the rest of us.
3. Make sure all of your events are authentic to your story.
So, I was reading this awful book recently and it’s about a girl who was abused by her dad and falls in love with the boy next door. The Dad disappears for awhile and then shows up years later with a new family and the same obsession with his daughter. The boyfriend beats the hell out of the dad and for some reason the dad is like “i will press charges against your boyfriend, unless you come to my house and hang out with me alone.” Ok, we all know what the perv dad is thinking, but what plays out is this melodramatic and ridiculous plot where the daughter secretly records her dad’s perv confessions.
Alright, here’s the thing. Most of us, do not become gumshoe, crack detectives and are able to set up a sting. Ok, in real life, that girl would have showed up at her dad’s place and been beaten, or raped or worse. He was insane and since the girl is set up as a character who literally cannot defend herself, it makes no sense that she would have been able to get away from him. This is a girl who needs her boyfriend to check her bedroom for zombies after she watched the original Dawn of the Dead… The author did not give us a character who authentically and honestly could have set her father up.
I’m always, always saying this, you have to know your characters. Your character can’t out of the blue, with no foreshadowing or set up become the hero. If she is not taking martial arts class, I better not read about her kicking anybodies ass. If he is not taking speech therapy, or practicing to speak without his stutter, then it should not just go away, because it makes a more dramatic ending. We will not care if we don’t believe and you have to foreshadow, set up events and develop your characters.