Happy Monday, everyone! Angela and I have been so focused lately on the launch of our setting thesaurus books, it feels like that’s all we’ve been doing for months. So we’re excited to get back to the normal Writers Helping Writers routine with a guest post by Kate Foster. She’s here today to talk about how to get readers falling in love with your characters on the very first page.
Plot and characters are both vitally important to a good story, but I’ve always been drawn to the people in the story more than to the story itself. In my opinion, characters are the all-important key to sinking your teeth into your readers and tearing out their hearts. Dramatic, of course, but fundamentally, it’s the reader’s heart you want to win over, and the characters are your bow and arrow. Get them right, and you’re on a pretty smooth course to writing an engaging book.
After you’ve profiled your character and know them better than your own family members – and definitely do this detailed, time-consuming background work; I promise it will make all the difference – it’s time to put pen to paper and let them take over your words. Because it’s no longer you telling the story; your character should be in the driving seat.
But don’t wait until the end of chapter one, or chapter two, or even page two to showcase their personalities, who they are, and what they do. No, smash it straight in there on page one, paragraph one. Lure, hook, intrigue. Let the reader hear the character and get to know them right off the bat; give your audience an important detail as to who this person is, what he or she does, what’s happened in the past.
To clarify this, here are a few examples of authors who showed readers on the very first page who they were getting involved with.
‘Bradley Chalkers sat at his desk in the back of the room—last seat, last row. No one sat at the desk next to him or at the one in front of him. He was an island.’ (There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom—middle grade, contemporary— by Louis Sachar)
Bam! From the very first line, we know in three sentences that no one wants to sit with Bradley, and probably because no one likes him. We know how Bradley feels about this too: isolated. And just like that, we’re touched, we’re sucked in. We’re sad. We want to know why. What is it about Bradley that’s so wrong, so terrible that he sits at the back of the class, alone?
‘The door would splinter off its hinges with a swift kick from his boot like the previous dozen he’d blasted in over the years. But bashing in doors was noisy and drew the wrong kind of attention.’ (Poor Boy Road by James L. Weaver)
Straight away we know we’re dealing with a tough guy—someone violent, someone who’s been doing this for a while. Kicking in doors isn’t an unusual experience for this character, which sets him apart from normal people as, let’s face it, most of us use the doorknob. But we also know that he doesn’t want to get caught. So, who is he? Is he working alone? Voluntarily? Is this his day job?
What these authors have done in their opening lines is dropped in sneaky clues to show (rather than tell) that their characters are different—definitely not run-of-the-mill—which prompts the reader to start asking questions. They’ve injected intrigue and interest in their first pages. And this is essential to make a reader keep reading. What authors mostly want is for their readers to invest time, and money, into their characters. Making this happen from the very first page is critical, and with deft characterization, it’s fairly simple.
As the book opens into that life-changing moment, ask yourself:
- How can I show the reader that my character is different than other characters? What’s unique about him/her, what’s important for the reader to know?
- How can I show the reader my character’s personality and voice through his or her reactions (physically and mentally) to the current scene?
- What emotion is my character experiencing as the book opens?
- What secret is my character hiding that sits at the root of his/her motivation?
Questions like these will help you to really know your characters before you write your book. And knowing them well—their flaws, strengths, habits, speech patterns, every puzzle piece from the past that has created this imaginary person—is important to being able to make them real, make them whole. Only then can they shine from that very first page.
Kate is an Englishwoman who lives on the sunny Gold Coast in Australia with her tribe of ‘lads’ – three sons, husband and male spoodle! She is the editorial director at Lakewater Press as well as a freelance developmental editor and loves nothing more than teaming up with authors to improve their raw manuscripts. She has been a writing judge and mentor for numerous writing contests, including Freshly Squeezed Reads, Nest Pitch, Fic Fest and Pitch Wars. Kate also dabbles a little with her own writing! You can find her online at www.katejfoster.com, www.katefosterauthor.com, on Twitter, and Facebook.
*photo courtesy: Pixabay
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.