I am currently writing a new novel, but I am also trying to increase my ability to create sympathetic characters, or in other words, characters that readers can relate to. In doing this, I've studied not only effective techniques, but I've also watched for those techniques in other writers' novels. One of those novels is Donna Hatch's Queen in Exile. First, from the back cover:
Rumors of war hang over Princess Jeniah's peaceful country of Arden, a land that shuns both magic and warfare. Following a lifelong dream, Jeniah forms a telpathic bond with a revered creature called a chayim, who is prophesied to save her kingdom. But when a Darborian knight comes upon Jeniah with her chayim, he sees only a vicious monster about to devour a maiden, and he slays the beast.
Devastated by the loss of her chayim, and fearing that her own magic is evil, Jeniah doubts her destiny. When an enemy invades Arden City, they slaughter the people, storm the castle, and execute the entire royal family except the princess. Rescued by the knight who slew her chayim, Jeniah is now heir to the throne of Arden and the only hope for freeing her people from tyranny.
On the run and hunted by enemy soldiers, Jeniah must place her life and the fate of her kingdom in the hands of this trained killer. Torn between embracing her destiny as queen of Arden, and her love for a mere knight, she must ultimately rely on her magic to save herself and her people from death and tyranny.
Two of the most basic techniques authors use to create characters that readers can identify with are 1) to show the character "petting the dog" and 2) to give them a tragic situation readers can sympathize with. While these are basic methods, authors must find a way to make them feel unique to their stories. Donna Hatch not only did this very well, but she also included them in the first few chapters of her novel.
First, her character reveals her kindness by petting the dog, or in this case, a magical and rare beast called a chayim. In Donna's own words:
"Jeniah continued to extend her hand until it finally touched the long, square muzzle, finding the golden fur softer than she expected. the chayim closed his mouth and uttered a noise much like a purr."
See? She simply petted the animal, and yet since this is a romantic fantasy, Hatch used a fascinating animal and a unique, legendary situation to make it memorable.
Second, the tragic situation. In Harry Potter, we find Harry orphaned and living in a cupboard with his neglectful aunt and uncle. In my latest novel, Trapped, Emi is a sheltered young woman whose father "died" when she was a baby and whose mother keeps such a tight hold on her that she hardly has her own life. In Queen in Exile, after the romantic lead kills Jeniah's chayim, Jeniah finds herself caught up in a world of war and betrayal in which her entire family is killed and she is captured. All tragic situations? Yes. And as readers, we yearn to see the characters' wrongs righted and their lives restored to a happily ever after.
Overall, Queen in Exile is an intriguing story, but Hatch's characters . . . well, lets just say it's been several months since I read this book (which I received from the publisher), and yet I still remember Jeniah. And her knight. :)