This morning, I took my daughter out to see The Secret Life of Pets. Visually, it looked great. I appreciated that it moved at a quick pace. There was one problem with it that really got to me. The characters were all drawn really well and the animation was beautiful, but they had absolutely zero charisma. As a fiction writer, that's a real concern I have about the stories I write.
If you don't want to run out and pay the $12 it cost to get into a movie these days, I'll sum it up. The Secret Life of Pets is basically a retelling of Toy Story. A toy is threatened when a new toy joins the bunch. In this case, it's a dog who's threatened when another dog moves in. They don't like each other. They managed to get lost. They form a bond. Through a series of misadventures, they find their way home. They like each other and are now playing on the same team.
The big difference between the two stories is that Woody and Buzz are so believable, the audience actually cares if they get back home. What drives it is that they're both so likable. When I saw Toy Story in 1995, I had hair down to my shoulders was at the peak cynicism. Even then, I bought that story all because of the charisma of those two characters.
And that is exactly what I worry about. My book has some bizarre elements to it. The reader will have plenty of opportunities to bail on it. The one reason why I think a reader wouldn't is because they care about the characters. The reader is vested in them and genuinely wants to see what happens to them because of concern. The entire story can hinge on that.
This is something that has kept me up at night and occupied my thoughts as I have driven back and forth to work.