To me it is creating conflicted characters. Characters in conflict and how they will resolve their conflicts keep the readers turning the pages.
Conflicts can be anything from mild all the way up to knock-down drag-out fights. They can be scolding, bickering, differences of opinion, veiled threats, hurt feelings, sarcasm, warnings, silently questioning a person’s veracity, loyalty, truthfulness, and inner torment. Conversations can start congenially and end up in confrontations.
The more the conflicts characters have and how the characters get out of those conflicts, the more depth the characters will have.
For example in my suspense novel a woman is falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death. The outward conflict is obvious. She has to escape prison and prove her innocence. However I also added a highly “flammable” inner conflict. As a teenager she was responsible for her sisters dying in a fire. It is her internal conflict about how she eventually comes to terms with being responsible for their deaths that runs throughout the story.
Conflicts can also change your story. I started writing my latest book, “Love’s Sweet Sorrow” as strictly a conspiracy/suspense novel tentatively titled, The Bishop Committee. The protagonist is a vice president of a large armaments company. He uncovers evidence his CEO is in league with arms dealers selling weapons to terrorists.
How do you know you have created great characters in conflict? The simple answer is in the reviews of your novels. Here are assorted reviews from my eight novels.
“A Sympathetic Character” “A Strong Female Protagonist” “Characters are Uncomfortably Realistic” “Complex Characters” “Excellent Characters” “A Very Resourceful Character”
“His characters are magnificent.” “The family was made up of flesh-and-blood characters. They laughed, loved, argued, fought, and had adulterous affairs.” “I loved this book. The characters are so real.” “Quaker character adds a unique twist”
Conversely, this is what can happen if your characters are not conflicted: My wife was having a weekly Mah Jongg game at our house. I overheard the ladies talking about a book. One said the characters bored me so I stopped reading after 100 pages.
But reviews come after the book is written. What can you do to create conflicted characters while you are writing?
I think the best thing you can do is read books by major authors. While you read, analyze how the authors create characters and their conflicts.
Find a critique group that will give you honest feedback on character development, dialogue, voice, plot, conflict and setting. But don’t automatically take anyone’s critique as gospel. Remember, it’s your story. Analyze the critiques to see if they have merit. Say you have a six person group. If one person criticizes something then it may or may not be valid. But if three or four in the group say the same thing about a segment then you should take it under serious consideration.
I will give away Mobi format for Kindle or an epub format for Nook and other e-readers to everyone who wishes to read my latest book, “Love’s Sweet Sorrow.” I would hope you would then post a review on Amazon. This book is also available in trade paperback. I can give away the paperback to the first two responders to Liane’s blog. Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.