Rooting for athletes & cheering for fictional characters . . .
Readers: What makes you connect with fictional characters? Authors: How do you create compelling characters?
I watched three events this weekend. The women’s and men’s Wimbledon Championships, and the notorious UFC match between Conor McGregor and Chad Mendes. I was on my feet at various points during each match, my adrenaline pumping, heart pounding—at one point I was swinging my own fists in the air during the UFC match!?! –but, why? Why was I so emotionally invested in the lives of three different people I have never met? And why did I care about a fight (when I am not a fan of the sport)?
I have always loved competitions, but I only like watching events for a team/person I like. I can’t sit through a football (American-style) game unless my favorite team of 17 years is playing. I just don’t care who wins unless my team is on the field. But when my favorite quarterback has the ball in his hands for an important play, my hands are clenched in the air, and I am wound tight with nerves and excitement.
When Serena Williams and Djokovic played this weekend, I was pumped up. I know this sounds horrible, but if the championship matches were between people I was unfamiliar with (or just not invested in), I would not have watched (or I would have been reading on my iPhone, at the very least, during the games).
And I could normally care less about MMA fighting, but after listening to all of the press and hype in the last few months about the infamous Irish Conor McGregor, I found myself actually looking forward to the event. And during the match I was a hot mess as the Irish fighter was pinned beneath the wrestler. “Get up! Get up! Hit him!” And something happened to my arms because they were moving in the air as if I was in the ring too.
So, two questions: Why do some sporting events matter so much? And what does this have to do with NOVELS?
First question answered: As I mentioned, people have a tendency to care much more about something when they are emotionally invested. When they have built a relationship/interest about a team or person . . . . You also bond with other people when you’re both rooting for something together. It is no longer just a game (or a fight). It is something that suddenly matters.
Second question answered: As a reader, if I don’t feel either attached to the author –or— if I don’t feel attached to the characters in a book, then I struggle to really care about the novel. When I am reading a book, it is almost like watching the Wimbledon Championship or the Connor match – I am shouting (usually in my head): “No! Don’t do that! Don’t kiss the other guy! No!” or “YES! YES! They are finally together!” – “Thank God he finally told her the truth!”
Now, I know not EVERYONE is like me. Some people will watch sports for the sheer love of the game itself. But come on, who can argue with me on the fact that the game goes to a whole new level when you’re watching a team you love?
As authors, we need to make sure we develop characters that people can fall in love with. Root for . . . ! It is human nature to want to build connections, even with fictional people. But, keep in mind, people have different tastes. Everyone may not love your book (even if it is of amazing quality and have characters with real substance), because people are different. Can you imagine if everyone loved the same sports team or all cheered for the same player? The world would be boring. Flat.
What is the overall take-away message from this? Competition is fun (to me) as long as I am invested in the competitors. Same goes for a book. I love to connect with the characters. So, try to build your characters in a way that allows your readers to relate to them. Give them feelings and emotions that are real. Have your readers up on their feet, yelling, “Get in the hole!” –Okay, totally just a golf analogy (I was just watching a new fave of mine, Jordan Spieth, golf.).
So, write a great book! Create amazing characters! But—don’t feel deflated if 100% of your readers don’t connect to the characters, because part of the beauty of people is variety.
photos: Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) pngbjpenn.com ; Serena Williams jpegsports.ndtv.com