Thursday, June 23, 2011

How To Make 'Em Care

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I've posted before on why we need to hook the reader with character and not just explosive action. But HOW? How do you, in the first several sentences implant feelings like that? It isn't easy, but here are a few tips:
  1. Put the MC in an immediately sympathetic situation. If it's something I can relate to, then I'm hooked. Wait! What if it's a dystopian or paranormal? How can I relate to being stalked by a vampire? Again - it's the similarity in the feelings. Haven't we all had those moments when we felt someone was watching. Or everything seemed deserted and we could imagine a mugger hiding around the corner?
  2. Make your MC's reaction unexpected. You know your MC, and hopefully you've chosen well. Put the wrong person in the right situation. And assuming we are at the beginning of said character's character arc, we can watch him/her fail miserably. Let's go with our vampire stalker. Suppose the frightened girl spins around and confronts him, giving him a piece of her mind? That could be fun. I'd sure want to see what the heck is up with her! We see some flaws and some potential heroism coming through immediately.
  3. Show a contradiction in the MC's internal and external image. Give us some internal dialogue to show how she thinks. Then show us through interaction with others how she is really viewed. If there's a dichotomy between those things, I might be more interested in this complex person. Inside? She's shaking, confronting the stalker because she learned that in some self-defense class. Externally? The vampire stumbles and looks around. Can vampire's blush? 
Okay - I don't know about you, but I'm interested in both of these characters now. What do you think? Any other tips? My blogging/tweeting friend Susan had a wonderful post on first chapter characterization based on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone that I recommend as well. 

34 comments:

  1. All of those situations draw me into a book. Another one though outside of any of these is the voice and details of the world - even when none of the above are happening. And sometimes those end up being my favorite b/c th ewriting is so good. Awesome post!

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  2. Haha--you NEED to write a story about a stumbling, blushing vampire. Please? Great post, Lisa.

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  3. Love the tip about internal/external image dichotomy! Thanks Lisa :)

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  4. Great post, Lisa! All of these are absolutely what grabs and doesn't let go of me when I'm reading a book.

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  5. NUMBER THREE for the win. Well, all of them for the win, really. But it's that dichotomy between internal and external that I love with my whole heart.

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  6. *takes notes* This is one of many things on my long list of "need to improves." Thanks, Lisa!

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  7. Excellent tips! Making your MC sympathetic in some way is a great way to make people care. I like to give my MC's some kind of flaw, be it big or small.

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  8. These are great! Thank you for the post. Number three - LOVE it! We are all like that, different inside than what goes on outside.

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  9. Great post, Lisa! I agree, the unexpected can totally hook me into a novel -but not usually by itself. There has to be that.. Je ne sais quoi, I guess. :)

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  10. I would like to see the stumbling, blushing vampire too, please.

    This is harder to do than I would like. But I'm getting there!

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  11. The dichotomy is an important one that many people miss. "There are two sides to every coin" and that statement is true of humans as well. By showing the contradictions between the public face and the private face (internalization) we make the character come to life.

    Great post, Lisa :)

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  12. Those are some good possibilities, but wouldn't work for all novels or all main characters (not that you said they would, just pointing that out).

    Showing your character in at least some time of conflict, not necessarily the main conflict of the novel but SOME conflict, and how they handle it is my solution. In A Kingdom's Cost I jumped around in time and place too much which I think was a mistake and a number of reviewers have complained about it although my very experienced story editor didn't. But I think that delayed my reader strongly connecting with my main character.

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  13. Thank you for all the amazing comments! Keep 'em coming!! And for those of you who want me to write about this vampire... It's unbelievably tempting. Perhaps we'll use this in other examples down the road so we can play with him some more. :D

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  14. Finally some GOOD ADVICE about starting a story. Loved that third example especially - a contradiction of internal and external. I'm definitely going to have to play with that one. Off to check out your link now. And where is that interview of you that you mentioned???

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  15. Sensory seduction! Seduce me baby ;) I enjoy story telling where you become the MC because of how the MC is reacting to and recording the world, scene, action.

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  16. Another great post. It's all about making the reader involved in the story.

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  17. Fantastic advice! And just what I needed to hear as I'm struggling with the opening of a new WIP.

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  18. I agree! Even if the situation isn't one we'll ever be in, we can still evoke the feelings of it. Great examples!!

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  19. I hope you all know I don't mean to say this is the ONLY way to go about making the reader connect. But hopefully it will spark an idea in you that will help, because I still believe connecting with character is vital to the book.

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  20. I love the way you look at things. All three of those points would grab me. Now I have to go back and check my WIP to see if I did these things. Thanks.

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  21. These are some great tips. I had a hard time with the character sympathy in my first book, and these tips are exactly what I tried to do to fix it. Thanks for sharing!

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  22. I totally agree. Sweet tips!

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  23. I find that making your character good at something can be really helpful in making people care about them. Not good at EVERYTHING, and not that Mary Sue "oh, I'm soooo bad at X" false humility--but to have some skill that gives them agency in the manuscript. A character just completely buffeted around by the fates, without the ability to do anything about it, gets old fast!

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  24. I like the idea of revealing character right away - some unexpected contradiction, or through action in a conflict, as you say.

    Great post!

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  25. Okay..first to comment on the post, then a funny bit after that.

    I'm intrigued by this as my first draft of my WIP doesn't even mention the main character (or one of two, I guess) and then it's in passing in background dialogue with his wife. It's four pages in when he is set in motion, but then it is in a sympathetic position. I am going to re-work the first chapter for the bad guys, and and wondering if I'll put the MC in ahead of that just so we get to know him earlier, but don't know how that will work out. I'll keep this handy fo then.

    Okay, so I'm in Houston, TX slaving internet off of Starbucks. This page loads a bit slow, and what I get is your header, the top of this post "How to make 'em care" and then the top part of your profile that says "About Me", and nothing else.

    So as I read what is loaded up, it says: "How to make em care about me." I did LOL

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  26. Dean - Well you know - It's all about me anyway. :P Just kidding! That's funny. And btw, though adult books can work differently from YA, I believe in starting with your MC.

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  27. Very nice. I'm a hugely character-driven reader, and writer.

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  28. Oh, Lisa, this is too funny. I couldn't look at your post yesterday, because with Pottermore and all, my site was exploding. Just got here and realized I've echoed you today in two ways. I posted this morning a piece about character sympathy and at the end I gave a shout-out to you!

    Great article, as always. And thank you! :-)

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  29. That's a great thing to remember for page one: Make 'em care! Thanks, I'll try.

    -Vicki

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  30. Really excellent post!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  31. I think this is the most important goal we need to strive for, a character that our readers care about. It's so tricky, but these are great tips. Thanks!

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