Perhaps the largest pitfall for writing, for all writers, is the story in your own head. The great challenge that is translating your all encompassing world and its precious characters to the reader is often the simplest oversight.
In our own minds, we know why we love (or hate) our characters. We know the value of their story. It does not need critical acclaim. It’s precious to us in a way you can only hope someone else feels after reading.
Because of that fact, many novels fail to live up to their potential. We all are vulnerable to this. Let’s say you write a protagonist, a character that is more than just an idea to you. You build a huge, complex world, a winding story with intrigue and power… and no one cares.
Some may argue that not all stories need to be character driven. While maybe this is true, the best ones are– after all, we love stories not as some fictitious-historical account, but as a journey for an individual (or a group). Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls is an entire story about blowing up a bridge. We aren’t captivated over hundreds of pages because we wonder if the bridge will blow up or not; we are captivated because Robert Jordan’s thoughts and desires and fears along the way grip is in an impossibly real way.
“You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”
― John Rogers
This quote is a summation of how characters should be viewed. Every one of them are real, living characters in a world that isn’t real. Don’t do them the disservice of holding them back from their true potential as people. Do you have moments when you truly sympathize with the anatagonist(s)? Do you have moments when you doubt the protagonist(s) intentions? Everyone thinks they’re changing the world when they write a novel; after all, it changes our own world with the labor of love it entails. But we must realize that you have to pull your readers in– and be honest with yourself, if you read the story as if it were someone else’s, would you actually give a damn about the characters?
The truth is, the thinnest, most barren stories can be carried like a baby on the backs of strong, loveable, characters (provided they have some sort of challenge to overcome). So don’t be oversensitive, throw away your heart, and re-read your story. Why should anyone give a damn about your characters? Is their struggle real, relatable? Can they have deep, complex emotions without being a sad sack or downright annoying? Throw curveballs, have the world change them.
In the perfect world, they’ll be that close friend that reader wishes he or she could help but is just out of reach.