Last weekend, my Spouse and I got sucked into watching Band of Brothers, a WWII mini-series starring Damian Lewis and a bunch of other actors who’ll have you pointing at the screen going, “I know that guy! What was he in?”

When I first heard about it, I thought it would be a big hunk of cheese: Produced by Steven Spielberg, augmented by Tom Hanks, fresh on the heels of Saving Private Ryan.

Boy, was I wrong.

The characterization is amazing, the individual soldiers’ stories make the history totally come alive. And you care about these people in a heart-wrenching way. You care about the characters as though you know them personally.

This week, I also saw Charlotte Gray, a movie starring Cate Blanchett and Billy Crudup about a British woman in WWII who goes to France (apparently it was WWII week at Chez Frampton). The acting was good, the story was interesting, but I just didn’t care–because I didn’t care that much about the characters. There wasn’t that moment of connection, as there was in Band of Brothers. And this was true, even though the story was romantic, and Crudup is hawt, and the film has nearly as much war drama as BoB.

So what made the difference? I don’t know, but if I could figure out just an iota of it, I would be selling books by the thousands. When you fell in love with Jane Eyre, or Scarlett O’Hara, or Elizabeth Bennet, was it because of their individual stories? I would guess not; I think it’s because something the author did caused you to connect with the characters in a powerful way.

Many times lately, I’ve put down a book and decided not to finish it because even though the writing was good, and the story had some unresolved questions I might have been interested in finding out the answer to, I just didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t care if they fell in love, or resolved their conflict, or whatever. And this is true even if the writing is fine (I have a few books by fave authors I’ve never finished because of this).

As I am in the process of editing, I am asking myself–many times–‘will someone care about these people? Have I done a good enough job of selling their distinct individuality, their passion, their specialness so readers are compelled to finish?

Caring about the characters–or not–is my deal-breaker in terms of reading a book. Do you share that? Do you have other deal-breakers? Which characters have you cared about the most?