Seductions And Promises

From My Story Doctor:

The sweetest thing writers can hear is that our readers missed their bedtime because they couldn’t put our book down. The words on the page seduce the reader to continue flipping and it’s obvious this engagement begins at the story’s opening and continues. So the question I’m exploring today is what openings do we need and what elements are required?

Recently, Hollywood Consultant Michael Hauge gave his ‘Seducing the Reader in the First Ten Pages’ talk to Apexers — great presentation — and one of the things that gave me pause was a question he sometimes asks to his clients. “Would you want to hang out with your protagonist in real life?”

He said he sometimes gets back a “yes, at the end of the book, after the character completes their arc” and sometimes the answer is worse, a just no. This begs the question, he said, “if you wouldn’t want to hang with them then why would you expect your reader to?” It’s a fair point.

So yes, character is extremely integral as is setting, and conflict. How do these puzzle pieces connect and how can you boil your story down that leaves ambrosia in your readers minds like ‘sweet maple syrup’ while they are trudging their way to breakfast with not enough sleep.


Everyone can probably agree without character there is no story. So how do we get our readers to feel compelled to follow our characters, particularly our protagonist?

David Farland said on his PROMISING STARTS course “Don’t be a character assassin with your own characters. Even your villain can be noble.” That is an intriguing concept. To boil it down simplistically, you want your characters to be likeable, or at the very least relatable. And with villains, if they are relatable, it makes them more real.

Story, according to Michael Hauge, starts with character because we read to have an experience and to have that experience we become the character. We are basically sliding into the protagonist’s skin and becoming that avatar. Can you imagine the difficulty in slipping into the skin of someone we don’t like? It would feel off-putting at best. However, if the character is relatable, we still can. Neither likeable nor relatable? We are not giving our reader an enticing reason to join the journey.

Creating empathy for the character, according to Hauge, is one of the best ways of starting out a story. We need to show how the character is stuck, is in jeopardy, is in danger of losing something vital. And belikeable. Show that they are caring and good people. He says, “They’ll have flaws, yes, but show that later. Get us hooked first.” Make them funny. And last, you certainly don’t have to do all of these, but you should have at least one from the list.

Farland, who also greenlit Hollywood screenplays during his career, agreed with showing the character being in pain and also being likable. He said to give characters problems, multiple problems, big layered problems! This is one of the things you should consider before you start writing your story.

Hollywood, according to Dave, often uses the ‘Pet the Dog’ technique. An example is Jim Carrey’s character actually petting a growling dog in one of his movies. Actions like these can show a morally questionable protagonist having a good heart and that makes the character likeable. Other ways to make a character likeable: Show other people caring about that character; make them attractive on the inside and/or on the outside; and make them admirable. He also said you certainly don’t have to do all of these, but again you should have at least one, if not more.

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor

6 thoughts on “Seductions And Promises”

  1. Each to their own. I don’t want to like or sympathize with bad guys. For that matter I avoid books that want me to spend time in their heads.

  2. I like the opposite: giving the protagonist flaws.
    A bad temper, a propensity to lie or mislead that makes you wonder how good the “good guy” is. Don’t have to go full antihero but a bit of ruthlessness serves to complicate things.
    If their ethics/motality/trustworthiness is unquestioned they’re not challenged enough.
    Peter Pureheart is boring.

    (Unless Kirk Douglas is THE VILLAIN.) 😉

  3. The protagonist the readers wants to hang out with is a certain sort of story. There are other sorts. I would have a hard time taking writing advice from someone who doesn’t know it.

    This isn’t a matter of popular vs. literary fiction. For an example of successful popular fiction with a deeply unlikeable–loathsome, even–main character, consider George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books. If you would want to hang out with him, you either have something wrong with you or you simply aren’t paying attention.

    • Fleming’s Bond comes to mind. An assasin by trade and a mess otherwise, even by 50’s standards.
      To say nothing of the typical noir protagonists.
      Others I dunno: would anybody in the 30’s actually want to hang around Poirot?

      If anything, problematic protagonists can be just as useful as the Purehearts.
      In SF one can find everything from Heinlein’s ruthless “competent man” to Burrough’s CARSON OF VENUS (who aimed his rocket at Mars and ended up on Venus and spent 5 volumes effectively running away from threats. 😉 ). Gully Foyle (THE STARS MY DESTINATION) being a monomaniatical scumbag didn’t stop the story from being shortlisted to best SF ever competition or for that matter the clan Atreides of Dune.

      Broken characters bring a lot to a story, and not just a promise of redemption.

      • I just started Blood Meridian. Anyone who wants to hang with the kid has serious issues and should seek counseling.

        All in all, the OP gives terrible advice. It isn’t universally terrible. There are many extremely likable protagonists out there, some of them in books that are very good. But the advice comes across as “My reading is extremely limited. I am now going to give you writing advice based on my extremely limited reading.”

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