One of the most important things we need to do as writers is help the reader connect with the character. But what the heck does that mean?
It means the character is sympathetic. We like them and want them to succeed. They don't even have to be a good guy. They can be a villian, like Dr. Horrible.
Dr. Horrible is one of the most sympathetic villains I've ever seen (and I won't spoil the series except to say he gets even more sympathetic). What makes us root for him can work for any character, good or bad.
Dr. Horrible: "Ok, dude, you are not my
just trying to change the world, ok? I don't have time for a grudge
match with every poser in a parka. Besides, there's kids in that park..."
The traits we like in real people work just as well for our characters. They're honest, nice, noble, brave, humble, funny. They play fair and sacrifice for others.
Dr. Horrible isn't all of these things, but he strives not to kill. He's self-deprecating. He really is working for the people (even if he sees those people as sheep, sometimes).
THEY EXCEL AT SOMETHING
Dr. Horrible: "I got a letter from Bad Horse."
Moist: "That's so hard core. Bad Horse is legend. He rules the League with an iron hoof."
They might be pathetic or ignorant or victims of everything. They might not even succeed, but a character that excels at something is a character worth rooting for. Even if Dr. Horrible's inventions don't work perfectly, the fact is he has a (mostly) working transmatter ray, freeze ray, and he can remotely hijack an armored van. That's pretty awesome, if you ask me.
THEY HAVE A GOAL
Dr. Horrible: "It's not about making money, it's about taking money. Destroying the status quo because the status is not . . . quo. The world is a mess and I just . . . need to rule it."
If we're going to root for the character, we need to know what they're striving for. It's hard to cheer from the sidelines if you have no idea how one scores a goal.
And it needs to be a goal we agree with. Ruling the world may not be the most sympathetic vision, but Dr. Horrible's motivation certainly is.
Dr. Horrible: "[reading fan mail] 'Where are the gold bars you were supposed to pull out of that bank
vault with your Transmatter Ray? Obviously, it failed or it would be in
the papers.' Well, no. They're not gonna say anything in the press, but
behold! Transported from there to here! [pokes a bag of gold liquid] The molecules tend to . . . shift during the transmatter, uh,
event. But they were transported in bar form..."
Once we're rooting for them, we feel every failure, and every step back makes the victory that much more awesome.
No, I'm not going to tell you whether Dr. Horrible succeeds. You have to watch it.
Seriously, go watch it.