Connecting Readers with Your Characters

Connecting Readers with Your Characters, Guest post by Lauren Carr

Connecting Readers with Your Characters, Guest post by Lauren Carr

Last night, I bailed on a book. I’m not a quitter. Firmly, I held to the belief that by the time I got one-third of the way into the story, I would care enough about the characters to strive onward to “the end.”

I feel guilty for jumping ship on a fellow author’s book—especially since this book had been selected by my book club. Yet, when most of the other club members stated that they were moving on to the next month’s selection, I figured that gave me a license to do the same.

The overall complaint: They couldn’t connect with the book’s characters.

Why couldn’t I, or anyone in our book club, connect with the characters in this book? The writer never allowed us to get close enough to them.

Every writer dreams of readers getting pulled into their book. The best way for that to happen is to have your characters grab the readers and yank them into the plot to go along for the ride. But before that can happen, the characters need to get close enough to the readers to grab them.

Connecting Readers with Your Characters, Guest post by Lauren Carr
For example, after several chapters into this murder mystery, I realized that I had yet to meet the murder victim. Granted, the victim in this cold case mystery was long gone when the book started, but still …

Every detail in the mystery was reported via narrative as the protagonist read reports and discussed the case with her colleagues. Through the detective investigating her disappearance, the readers learned the victim’s name, that she was a student, and the date she disappeared. We learned that she had parents and the major she was studying in college. Basically, the reader learned nothing more about the victim than what appears on the average resume.

In order to get close enough to the characters to connect with them, the writer needs to allow the reader to meet them.

Sometimes the premise can make this difficult. Once, I beta read a cozy mystery for a writer in which the amateur detective investigated the case via gossip from various investigators and witnesses. There were no visits to the crime scene. No direct dialogue with any suspects or witnesses. The protagonist learned everything second or third hand.

Think about this. If the protagonist is experiencing the storyline second-hand—then the reader is experiencing it third-hand.

Admittedly, this can be an issue for writers of mystery (especially cold case mysteries), suspense, or thrillers where the protagonists are investigators brought into the story after the fact. For example, the novel opens with the police detective arriving on the scene after the murder. However, there a tricks and tips to bring your readers up close and personal.

Involve Your Characters and Keep them Close: Keep your characters up close to the plot, either by time, place, or motivation. One common technique is to make the protagonist have a personal stake in the outcome. The antagonist targets him or the victim is a personal friend.

Often, readers will joke about how common it is for the whole family tree of the amateur detective in a cozy mystery series to have been murder victims, witnesses, or suspects—all in the name of connecting the protagonists to the plot!

Actually, the protagonist does not need to be that close for the reader to connect.

In one murder mystery I read, the detective simply looked wistfully down at the victim, a sweet looking young woman. His partner asked him what was wrong, and he replied that the victim reminded him of a sweet Italian girl from high school who had won all the boys’ hearts.

“Oh, the one that got away, huh?”
“No, the one that I married,” he said.

At that moment, readers connected to the victim via the detective who took a personal interest in the case simply because she reminded him of his wife.
Other techniques for connecting readers to distant characters:

Prologues: If you are writing a police procedural or detective novel where the crime is committed before the protagonist is introduced, consider opening your book with a prologue. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out scene. Mine are usually only about five pages long. Introduce the readers to the victim. Let them experience the event, the fear, the horror, first hand. This will grab your reader by the throat and yank them into the book. This type of prologue can serve a dual purpose if your novel has an otherwise slow opening.

Flashbacks: Most writing rules strongly suggest using flashbacks sparingly. If you are writing crime fiction in which your detective is not personally involved with the victims and witnesses (say a police procedural) you may want to consider using flashbacks, written from the witness’s or victim’s point of view during the investigator’s interviews with them.

This will take your readers one step closer to the action. Also, during the flashback, you are putting your reader into the witness or suspect’s head. This trick will engage them in the action.

That’s the whole idea. Before your readers can become engaged in the action, they need to connect with your book. The best ones to connect with your readers are your characters—but they can’t do that unless you let them get up close and personal with your readers!

Connecting Readers with Your Characters, Guest post by Lauren Carr
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram


Ends Nov 10, 2018


  1. Thank you, Jo, for inviting me once again to Writers and Authors! As always, it's fun to meet with fellow writers and authors to talk about getting up close and personal with our characters.


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