As aspiring writers, we all want to create that page-turner. A story that sucks the reader in and leaves an impact. So you create a wicked plot, come up with a compelling theme, and off you go, right? Oh, wait, those characters. Is it important that you use relatable characters?
Relatable characters are the most important element of a story. They are the gateway to your creative world and how believable it is. As writer Abbie Emmons perfectly puts it: the story is not about what happens, it’s about how what happens affects and transforms the characters.
But why do they have such an impact?
We love relatable characters
When characters are relatable, the reader can identify with them and accept them into their world. They understand why your protagonist makes certain choices or reacts in a certain way. Even if they don’t like it, they will accept it. That is because we are drawn to people like ourselves. We are programmed to bond. Being able to relate makes us feel accepted, which touches on our survival instincts. That’s why neglected babies grow up dysfunctional.
We love to emphasize
When Atreyu entered the Swamp of Sadness in The NeverEnding Story, my heart sunk deep into my chest. He encountered one trial after the other, and you could feel his spirit getting hit after hit. When the final blow hit (no spoilers here) I cried my eyes out. I felt what he felt, lost what he lost, and loved every second of it. Why? Because I am a very emphatic person.
Just as we love to relate, most people also love to empathize. That’s because we all want to be understood and respected, to understand the emotional world around us. Empathy gives us the tools to respond appropriately to a situation and build social connections. When you can let the reader empathize with the character, you bring them closer together. They bond.
We like to be represented
Alright, let’s be honest here. We all like to be the center of our universe, the hero in our own story. There is no shame in that, so own it! When we see somebody who is like us, we cannot just relate, but it also boosts our self-esteem. If they can do it, so can we. Just as we work hard to accept others, we love to be accepted. We love to see how others struggle with the same issues we do and how they overcome them. Representation feels good and can inspire us to become even better.
Reading becomes more comfortable
Do you know those people who still talk to you even when you have a headset on? In some of those cases, I pretend not to see or hear them because I do not want them dumping their life story on me. In other cases, my earplugs are already in my hand even before they said hi to me. Why? Because I enjoy talking to people that I can relate to.
Speaking to people you like is comfortable and makes the time fly by. The same goes for reading. And even though most of us won’t receive a written invitation to a magical school, many have felt like the oddball out at one point. We all have had struggles in school and best friends we got in trouble with. So we relate. And look at what that did for a story such as Harry Potter. So next time somebody tells you that a good plot is the backbone of a story, make them think again.
Now, off you go. Make some new imaginary friends!