How to write characters like Stephen King! 7 secrets to hook readership

Posted: April 29, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Authors like Stephen king can rip me out of reality and catapult me off into another world filled with adventure and suspense. He makes me feel that I am more than just curious about what happens to the characters; I feel that I am the characters, and whatever is happening to the characters is happening to me. As a result, I can’t wait to find out the ending, and I sail through the pages, caught up in the story and loving every minute of it. This is not an accident. Stephen King does this on purpose; he magically transfers your identity into the character, and you are hooked. He does this with seven techniques that anybody can learn, and he is not the only bestselling author that uses these techniques. Do you want to know the secrets?

I will outline the seven secrets and give examples from the movies and books of many different authors and film makers (Not just Mr. King’s)

The Bad situation

Have you ever been in a bad situation? We all have and we can identify with it. In King’s latest novel, “11/ 22/ 63”, he starts off with a character who has just gone through a divorce. In the novel, Duma Key, his character has just lost his wife and his arm. In “The Stand” each character has a similar bad situation. Frannie is pregnant and wants to break up with her boyfriend, the killer disease is raging across the nation, and the other characters aren’t having a great time either. Harry Potter lives under the stairs and his aunt’s family treat him like crap. This causes sympathy. Put your characters in a tough spot and the readers will recognize and root for them. But the next trick really hooks them in . . .

The Attitude Adjustment

Have you ever had a big disappointment or been brought down a peg or two when you least expected it? If this happens to your characters your readers will identify. In Stephen King’s “IT” Bill brother is killed in the beginning a big letdown after playing happily in the rain. Or this can be done by having an antagonist destroy the hopes of you main characters. This sets up an unresolved wrong that must be righted, and the reader will want to see the bad guy get what they got coming to them. The next trick pulls the reader in further. . .

Thinking Dude (Or Dudette)

Have you ever thought of the perfect thing to do or say in a situation, but well after the situation was over? Thinking Dude, is where the character does or says something absolutely brilliant at the perfect time. It causes the reader to think, “If I was in that situation, I would have done the exact same thing,” thus causing the reader to think that your character is intelligent and their brother or sister in spirit! When Harold Lauder began painting signs on roof tops for people to follow in the novel “The Stand” I thought to myself, “now that was a Thinking Dude.” Your character can do the same. Now this next technique has sold hundreds of millions of books. . .


Have you ever wished to be someone important or to have special abilities or to live in an amazing place? When I say fantasy I don’t mean sword and sorcery and dragons. I mean the fantasies that we all have. Every great character makes us fantasize about what it would be like to be that character. Psychology tells us that every human has a deep need to be treated as if they are important. Readers can get this from great characters and great stories. That’s why superheroes are so popular. It’s a fantasy. But every fantasy must come with a conflict to make it dramatic. Wouldn’t it be cool to have spider powers, but wouldn’t it suck if super villains were trying to kill you all the time? Wouldn’t it be cool if you were not just a mistreated orphan boy, but in fact, you were the most famous wizard in the world? But wouldn’t it suck if you were famous because the most powerful, evil wizard in the world killed your parents and now he has vowed to kill you? It doesn’t have to be super powers; it could be wealth; it could be the amazing world your characters live in, or anything to make your readers daydream. Use a fantasy element to power up your characters and you can’t go wrong. Now this next technique is, I think, the single most powerful storytelling technique ever . . .

Reverse psychology

Have you ever been blamed for something that you didn’t do? Reverse psychology is when the reader knows something some or all of the characters in the story don’t know; it can be a form of injustice, and it can be done from many different angles. Your character can be accused of doing something that the reader knows he or she did not do: wrongly accused of a crime, accused of cheating, and accused of lying. The key is to this working is when the reader knows it isn’t true. It can also be done when the reader knows there’s a monster behind the door but the characters don’t. Or we know what the killer really means when he says “I’ll see you later.” This technique can also be used when one character uses it on another like when Tom Sawyer tricks kids into whitewashing the fence for him by telling them he loves to do it and not everyone can do it right; he lets them whitewash only after they beg him and pay him for the privilege. There are many more ways to use reverse psychology on your readers, but when done right, your readers will be hooked on every word. The next technique is an oldie but a goodie . . .

Good Deeds

Have you ever wished you had done something noble and unselfish? Everyone does and we try to do those thing when we get a chance. Let your characters be brave and unselfish and the readers will admire and identify with them. And help an old lady across the street every once in a while. The final technique is the most satisfying one . . .

Attitude Re-Adjustment

Have you ever wished you could see the bad guy get what they deserve? In my opinion Clint Eastwood is the king of the Re-Adjustment. I love the final scene in the movie “The Unforgiven” where the cruel sheriff (Gene Hackman) and his posse are bragging and laughing about how they are going to chase those yellowbelly assassins (Clint Eastwood and friend) all the way to Mexico if they have to, but then Clint strolls right in the front door, shotgun in hand. He then proceeds to hand out the ultimate Attitude Re-Adjustment. Let your characters hand out their own Re-Adjustments and your reader will love you for it.

That’s about it for now. I don’t pretend to be an expert on using these techniques in my own novels, but I’m getting better every day. And you will too. Practice makes perfect I’m told. Have you found any other techniques to improve your storytelling? Comment here and let me know if this has been helpful. Thanks! God Bless!


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