But WHY?

One of the most basic tenets of humanity is that people do things for a reason.

That's why readers don’t want to hear that characters do things for the hell of it, on a whim, or for the writer's convenience—they want an explanation, a motivation rooted in nature or nurture, something they can follow along and understand. It's the same impulse that fascinates them about unlikeable or even downright wicked characters.

Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs

So make sure you have an explanation ready for every choice your character makes, every line they utter, everything. You don't need to use it all - in fact, if you do you'll probably lose the reader to an infodump yawn and the siren call of a video game, but it's definitely worth keeping in mind as you write.

Readers will often fill in the blanks on their own, without input from you. That’s okay. That’s good. It means you’ve successfully created something they want to understand properly and explain to themselves, which is the secret to what I call a novel's half life - the way it continues to work on a reader's imagination long after The End.

It's also the secret to infusing your characters with life and turning them into people, not characters. Don’t worry whether readers will respond by either loving or hating your characters. Either reaction is great, because it means they care.

 The one true mark of a bad character is reader apathy.

LIA KEYES is represented by Laura Rennert, of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

A British expat, she's currently finishing a fantasy adventure for young adults. You can find links to her online haunts on her website.

Lia's other musings


Good advice for any writer. Getting the reader to care about our characters should be our top priority. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for reading, Adrian!

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