Yesterday I made a bold assertion in my post. I said, “What keeps a reader going is his care about what happens to the character, as much as his interest in the story line.” I believe that. And I’ll give a real life example.
I was watching an episode on Animal Planet about abused and neglected animals and the people who rescue them. Early in the segment, an SPCA staff member receives a call about a cat locked inside a house. No one lives in the house. It is for sale. The SPCA staffer calls the real estate agent to let him in the house. Sure enough, an emaciated cat, which is so dehydrated that it is unable to stand or walk, is found. It is barely alive.
Now, let me interject that I am a “dog” person by nature; dog stories captivate me more than cat stories. Nevertheless, I am invested in what happens to this cat. I want to know if the animal survives. I want the cat to make it. I care about the cat.
My concern about the cat kept me watching for the next twenty minutes, through rescues of pot belly pigs (an uninteresting animal to me) and other animals. I thought to turn the channel more than once, but I wanted to know what happened to that cat.
Finally, the program returned to the cat’s tale (pun fully intended). With rehydration by the vet, the cat’s bodily functions returned to normal. Kitty looked like a new creature, healthy and beautiful.
“Yes!” I shout. I fist pump. The cat made it.
The point is I sat through a story line that didn’t really interest me for twenty minutes to find out what happened to a cat. The segment writer evoked caring in me for one of the featured characters. That caring kept me involved in the story to find out what would happen to the character I cared about.
Therein is the lesson for the author. Make your reader care about a character. When the reader cares about a character, he or she will stick it out through parts of the story that may be less interesting to find out what happens to the character that matters.