I find it difficult to enjoy a novel if I don’t find some kind of connection or identification with the protagonist, even if that person has a dark side I don’t like or is otherwise very different than me.
If the protagonist is a man, I note ways we’re the same or that we’re faced similar questions or heartaches. If the protagonist is a woman, I note whether this is the kind of woman I would like to know, or have known, or perhaps simply respect.
How about you? Do you look for this connection? Do you feel a sense of admiration when the protagonist solves a problem, deals with an issue, gets past a bad habit, or discovers new meanings in life that are one way or the other similar to issues you’ve dealt with–or are still dealing with?
If so, I think we have a lot of company here, putting ourselves into the main characters’ shoes in one novel after another. Maybe we end up feeling inspired or less alone with the trials and tribulations that plague us. Maybe we feel better about ourselves when a main character makes the same kinds of mistake we’ve made or finds solutions to problems similar to those we’ve discovered.
As a writer, I hope to create characters that make readers feel this sense of identification. Partly, those feelings draw you into the story and keep you reading. And partly they might leave you with something more than a good read when you finish the book.
When I think of the novels that I’ve liked best over the years, I see there’s always something that drew me to the main character–for better or for worse. While reading, I was–in a sense–walking in his or her shoes.
Stories gives us many examples of others puzzling out the vicissitudes of life whether those people live in the distant past or the far-off future. The stories don’t become recipes so much as they become ideas, possibilities, or prospective ways to dealing with what we’re dealing with.
I love a novel than ends up seeming like it was sort of about my kinds of dreams and concerns. You might think of what you know about me and what you know about the main character in the novel I’m reading and see a night and day difference. But, as long as I keep reading, you can bet I’ve found some kind of a connection there.