In Lexie, and in each character that builds the story, there’s a good demonstration of two traits necessary to an involving character: vulnerability and admirability. What makes this story useful in this lesson is that it’s such a quiet story, no sensationalism required to see these traits at work, developing reader empathy.
The flaws in a character, rather than the strengths, make us feel for them. Show your readers something your characters are embarrassed about, or wish they hadn’t done, or are afraid of. Tell your readers their secrets.
Choose flaws that create suspense. Vulnerability makes the reader worry about whether or not your character will make it through his or her ordeals, either physically or emotionally.
We admire characters for who they are, for what they do. But remember this: we regard certain characteristics as finer than others. We admire loyalty, honesty, kindness, a sense of humor, persistence in the face of discouragement, insight and intelligence.
As a reader, we can only admire these good qualities when we see them being tested. So you have to come up with plot devices (obstacles) for them to overcome. To make it all work, you give him personal stakes, an emotional motive for his actions, and whenever you can, you raise the stakes.
I wonder if I did all I could to raise the stakes in Lexie. It seems to me Lexie recognized the problem of Mom not knowing at the beginning of the story. The marriage proposal raises the stakes regarding what Mom doesn’t know, but if I’d found a way to raise them even higher, (or start at a lower rung on the ladder in the first place—never ignore the strategy of going back to the starting point to max the contrast), it would have increased the readers’ emotional tension.