Creating Characters for the Keeper Shelf

“Have you ever noticed how some characters can grab you by the heart in the first couple of pages in a book? Those are the stories that publishers fight for and that ultimately end up on reader’s keeper shelves. These are the stories that we want to write. We know our heroes must be heroic and our heroines sympathetic, but how do we show this in the first couple of pages in a sufficient manner to catch the reader’s interest?

There’s a screenwriter’s trick to work on the viewer’s subconscious and make them emotionally attach to the film’s characters. I learned about ‘rooting interests’ (as in rah-rah-go-team rooting) a few years before I sold my first manuscript. At the time I dismissed the list as common sense and thus missed the power of employing rooting interests. I’ll explain how I came to realize my mistake later, but first I should tell you what a rooting interest is.

  1. We care about characters we feel sorry for. (empathy)
  2. We like characters with humanistic traits.
  3. We like to admire the character.

Most importantly, we like someone with a mix from all three of these categories.


undeserved mistreatment – undeserved misfortune (bad luck) – physical or mental handicap – frustration or humilation (embarrassment) – a moment of weakness – abandoned – betrayal – telling the truth but not being believed – exclusion and rejection (not one of the group) – loneliness and neglect – feeling guilty when one’s mistake causes pain – repressed pain – life endangerment …

You’ll note that the list is broken into three categories: Humanistic, Empathetic, and Admiration. It’s easy to remember these as the ‘other HEA.’ The idea is to select several of rooting interests and work them into the pages when your character is introduced.”

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