If you have queried a project before, you may have received rejections with the following feedback: “I didn’t connect with the characters.”
It’s disheartening for writers to hear that agents didn’t connect with their characters. Why is that? You, the writer, love your characters, so shouldn’t agents love them too?
There are several reasons why an agent isn’t connecting with your characters. Here we go.
1. Your Characters Are Not Fully Developed (AKA, They Don’t Feel Like Real People)
Most of the time, agents reject manuscripts because the characters are not fully developed, hence they cannot connect with them. The best books have well developed characters who feel like real people. Learning to develop characters takes time and practice.
Here are signs that your characters are underdeveloped:
a. Your Characters Lack Personality
Everyone has a personality. It should be clear from the start what your character is like. If we can’t grasp who your character is, the agent is not going to want to keep reading.
Examine your character and identify his/her personality. If you can, great! If you can’t, there’s a problem. Ask beta readers to identify your characters’ personalities. If they are giving you different answers, then something isn’t transitioning right in your novel.
Usually, the problem is in the dialogue. Our dialogue says a lot about our personality. When the dialogue is dull, dry, and gives no personality, then the agent will not feel a connection with the characters. A well developed character will have lively and believable dialogue that matches his/her personality perfectly.
b. All of Your Characters Act and Sound the Same
Not only is it important that your characters have personalities, but it’s also as important that they all have different ones.
This problem can also come from dialogue. If all of your characters sound the same, then you haven’t developed them enough yet for each character to come alive.
c. Your Dialogue is Boring, Dry, and Unnatural
Besides having characters sound the same, there are other issues that can occur in dialogue that affect character development.
Other issues include stilted speech, exposition dialogue, and clichéd dialogue. All of these will make your dialogue sound unnatural, and when you have unnatural dialogue, your characters’ personalities won’t shine through.
d. Your Characters Lack Goals and Motivations
Every book has this basic plot: your character wants something and someone/something is in his way. Your characters’ goals and motives drive the plot, and without them, there would be no story.
Wants, goals, and motives show a lot about a person, and if these are not present in your novel, your characters will be boring. Nobody likes a boring character.
2. You Are Telling Instead of Showing
If you have read my “Show, Don’t Tell” series, you’ll know showing is crucial to character development. Showing brings your characters to life; telling does not. Agents want to read about characters who come to life.
If you want to read more about show, don’t tell, click here.
3. Your Characters Are Not Believable
Agents want believable characters. What is a believable character? They are like real people. They have wants, goals, personalities, motives, hobbies, interests, loved ones, and most importantly, flaws.
Usually, unbelievable characters arise when the writer does not give them flaws. These characters are perfect. They have the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect family, and basically the perfect life that nobody has. Perfect characters are unnatural.
Nobody is perfect. Every agent and reader has flaws, and they want to connect with characters who have flaws too. Sometimes we connect more from our flaws than our strengths.
And honestly, if your characters are perfect and get everything they want easily, you’re not going to have much of a story. Perfect characters are boring, and agents do not want boring characters.
4. Your Characters Are TOO Unlikeable
There are some personality traits that nobody likes: whininess, jealousy, manipulation, etc. While books about anti-heroes and criminals get published all the time, these characters still have redeeming traits that the agent can connect with.
While I said before that characters need flaws, they should have strengths too. There needs to be something that makes the character likable or redeemable.
Whininess is one trait that agents and readers can’t stand. Most of the time, listening to someone whine is uncomfortable, so if we don’t like whining in real life, we won’t like it in our books either.
5. Your Characters Are Not Proactive
Throughout your whole book, your characters should be doing something. They need to be proactive and engaged in a conflict. If they’re not doing anything, the agent will get bored. Agents and readers do not connect with characters who just sit around drinking coffee, chit chat with friends, and just think about stuff (especially the past). If your characters are inactive, the agent will wish she were reading something else.
Well developed characters are proactive. It doesn’t matter what their personalities are. Whether they’re strong and outgoing or quiet and shy, a proactive character is doing something relating to a conflict.
6. Your Characters Are Just Not For The Agent
Sometimes, and unfortunately, an agent didn’t connect with your characters because of her own personal taste.
When that happens, just keep querying and find the best agent who will love your characters.