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The "Spark": the importance of connecting with characters

I’ve made my way through a few books this summer, and I haven’t really felt very strongly about any of them – at least not until this past week, when I read Alison Weir’s The Lady in the Tower and Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. (Both of these will be reviewed in the next few days, so I’ll go into more detail about both of them.)

The thing these two books had in common was that I felt a strong connection to their characters, something I hadn’t really felt with any of the other books I’d read so far this summer. Granted, Weir’s book is a work of non-fiction, but I still need to feel connected to the person(s) I’m reading about in order to really get the most out of the book. For instance, Weir presented Anne Boleyn as a very compelling figure, one with the complexities one would expect of a real person. Boleyn wasn’t presented as a one-sided figure or a caricature; she came to life on the page – this, more than Weir’s scholarship, however excellent it is, was what made me want to keep reading.

Same with Her Fearful Symmetry, a work of fiction. It started off slow, but I was curious about the characters, so I kept reading. As the story progressed, I found myself drawn in more and more, becoming invested in certain characters. I found myself growing frustrated with their mistakes, wanting to reach into their fictional existence and shake some sense into them. Were they silly, silly beings? Yes. But I cared enough to be frustrated; I wasn’t merely apathetic like with most of the other books I’ve read so far this summer.

It doesn’t matter what genre your book is, or even if it’s fiction or non-fiction, if you’re reconstructing things from documents and eyewitness accounts or if you’re constructing something completely new from your imagination. It’s important that the reader feels that connection with the characters – otherwise, what good reason is there to go on?

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