Let Characters Charm Your Readers

One trick to making your characters pop off the page is to charm the reader. This doesn't mean your male hero speaks like a stereotypical Romeo. Or your heroine acts like a helpless dame looking for her prince in shining armor.

Charming the reader is more down to earth, more home-grown than this. Most of us love complicated heroes/heroines who've had a dark past, or at least been through a little pain in life. Untroubled people on the page are boring (in real life, they are just lucky! and only slightly boring). But adding pain points to your character won't necessarily charm readers either. Pity is not charming, frankly.

So, what charms you about the average Joe? For one, I love to know what makes people smile automatically and thus break through their walls. Puppies are perfect examples.

As most of you know, I have a chocolate Lab puppy named Tucker, and he's a force to be reckoned with. Whenever we approach men, especially the groups of business suits or construction workers, their air of machismo drops. Guys drop to their knees, coo over how cute the puppy is, then look uncomfortably at one another and stand up straight again. Fascinating!

Recently, I brought up this issue with the 5-man crew of State Patrolmen sitting outside my local Starbucks. I explained that watching men react to Tucker was an exercise in psychology. They laughed and agreed that they had all fallen into their 10-yr-old selves the minute Tucker headed for them with his wiggling butt routine.

Now these guys were big, with their bullet proof vests on, sitting tall and telling stories about arresting tough guys. That they could laugh at themselves, IN FRONT OF EACH OTHER, was very charming.

The point is this: when and where people break out of their straight faces, drop their veneers, and act human is usually when we find them more vulnerable and thus interesting. That's a trick you can pull on the page to make your character not only charming, but more real.

How a character responds to a puppy--or a baby or elderly person--may feel cliché to you. So change it up. How about an ugly, ratty dog, or the bratty bully, or the cranky old maid down the street. If the character can still smile/laugh in these encounters, you can bet your readers will too.
The Editor Devil