Vulnerable Characters are More Compelling

Vulnerable Characters are More CompellingNothing draws us into a book more than vulnerable characters. When people appear wounded or in need of our help, we are instantly drawn to them—it’s a basic human reaction. We may also feel repelled or frightened, but either way, the fact of the matter is that injury to another person instantly triggers a strong response.

Vulnerability may be the result of the character’s deep, dark secret—afraid of the secret being uncovered. Or it may come from the intensity of his need or want—because, as we all know, desire can render us naked in a fundamental way.

For your character, the ambition and focus inherent in a strong desire can imply some form of inner strength, while at the same time rendering the character vulnerable to being deprived of what he most wants.

If your main character has everything he needs, take the most significant thing from him. Pick his pocket. Get it out of his closet or take it off the shelf. Turn your main character’s world upside down. For example, some children carry a blanket with them wherever they go. Linus from the Peanuts Gang is almost never seen without his blue security blanket, which he holds it over his shoulder while sucking his thumb. If he didn’t have that blanket, he’d become emotionally unglued and devastated.

Take your main character’s security blanket away from him or her. You want him to become emotionally unglued and devastated enough to change in order to reach their goal. If your character needs:

  • a schedule, change it.
  • coffee, create a coffee shortage.
  • fancy, expensive clothing, force him to wear a torn T-shirt and a pair of shorts.
  • his wallet stuffed in his back pocket at all times, make him lose it.
  • a car to get to where she’s going, have it break down.
  • a security system to feel safe, make a storm knock it out.
  • another character to lend her money, have that character disappear and force her to get a job.
  • an alarm clock, break it.
  • a nice hair style, have the hairdresser chop it all off by accident.

When you take away your main character’s security blanket, he or she will have to deal with the anger and loss, and be forced to make changes to reach their goal. When you take away his security blanket, he becomes vulnerable. Readers relate to vulnerable characters. A reader might say, “I can’t stand to be without my lucky pen, I understand how he feels.” When readers find characters similar to them, they are drawn to them and find them more compelling.

Stefan Jaskiel

Hello! I began his writing career way back in 1993, when I stumbled upon my first job as a Technical Writer. I never imagined myself writing user guides and programming manuals (technical how-to books), but my interest in technology coupled with my diverse college experience made me a natural fit for that kind of work.

About a quarter of a century later (in 2016), I finally cut his corporate ties (literally, with a pair of scissors), stepped out of the cubicle, and followed my heart back to the world of fiction…. kind of. Now, I writes how-to books about fiction as I make my transition from technical writer to full-time novelist.