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