Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why Should I Care?

I seldom put a novel aside without reading it through, but last week I did. It was a new book by an author whose historical novels I admire a great deal. His new book is a thriller with a contemporary setting, but I don't think my interest flagged because of the genre or setting. So why did I part company with him after reading nearly 300 pages?

Because none of the characters deserved my attention. I felt no emotional tie to the heroine or the people she loved, and most of the others were (How can I put this kindly?) not the sort I would want to be my roommates. Perhaps the author wanted to tantalize me with the possibility that one of them would become a "person of interest" in the investigation, but that was precisely the problem--I wasn't interested in any of them. I'm not a callous person, yet all of the characters left me cold.

I've come to realize that stories I enjoy most are those with characters I care about. I imagine the same is true for you. So why might we care about a fictional character?

We see ourselves reflected. I saw myself in Father Tim of Jan Karon's Mitford series, for example. Having been pastor of a church in Fort Wayne for several years, I heard my former parishioners in the voices of Father Tim's parish. I saw my own foibles and blunders in Father Tim's attempts to serve his people, and I recognized my own feelings of joy when his efforts succeeded.

We get a second chance. When a fictional character is placed in a predicament similar to one we've experienced, we see alternate ways we might have dealt with a problem. Or we may feel vindicated by our own handling of it. Either way, we enjoy reading about realistic characters who afford us a second chance to deal with our own problems.

We become more aware of God. A spiritually mature character sees God at work in situations where we might miss him. Depression Era stories such as "Spencer's Mountain" and "The Journey of Natty Gann" offer us good examples of characters who see God at work in desperate circumstances.

Characters don't have to be likeable or worthy of imitation in order for us to care about them; but unless we care, we're not likely to follow their stories to the end.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.


  1. This is true for me as well, even in TV shows and movies. If I don't care how the challenge resolves for the characters, I don't care how the story ends.

  2. Absolutely correct. I just finished critiquing an author friend's latest. I was so involved with the main character by page 5. Of course, I would want to read the rest of the story!

  3. There is nothing like the sad feeling you get when you finish a story with great characters and can't believe you won't know how the rest of their lives play out. This is the reason I like to wait to read a book in a series until the series is complete and I can binge read the entire series back to back.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Writing characters readers care about is my goal, as well as how God transforms them. I'm with you, Joe. Time is too precious to waste on non-compelling books/characters. I don't do that any more, either.