Over at the First Five Frenzy post from last month, I talked about how to help a reader connect to your manuscript in the first five pages. I thought I’d quickly break down some of the previous advice that pertains to character, and then share a few more tips!
Don’t start with breakfast.
It’s hard to connect with a character when we see them wake up, survey the room, comment on the weather, look in the mirror to describe themselves, and begin their day. I see it a lot in the query box and it doesn’t really tell us much about this particular character. Particularly when there are other, more interesting was to introduce the narrator.
It also creates a red flag – are we going to see every moment of their day from now on, instead of just the important moments that drive the narrative?
But… be careful of starting in a high-tension scene.
Similar to starting with breakfast, when we start with a character who is being chased or is in immediate physical danger, it’s difficult to give the reader enough about the character so that we care that this particular character escapes, instead of just following the action.
When we start with something that the reader knows is supposed to be very tense, but doesn’t feel it, the reader is more likely to put down the book. (High expectations, you know?)
Further tips for building a character that resonates with readers:
- Give us a reason to root for them. Why do we want them to succeed? (Think emotionally/internally and physically/externally.)
- Every protagonist doesn’t have to be rainbows and sunshine, but we need to see a soft underbelly. If they lash out, what pain or self-doubt are they trying to hide?
- Nobody is perfect. What flaws do your characters have that make them human? (And how do these particular flaws both help and hurt them in attaining their goals?)
- Not every protagonist is loud; some are more introverted. (Here’s a few thoughts on how to build introverted – but not boring – characters.)
- That said, watch for passive characters. Passive characters react to their circumstances, but do not drive them. Is your character doing enough to move the plot forward? If they walked away from the problem right now, would their life really change? It’s hard to connect to passive characters who are just being pushed along their story through circumstance or convenient plot turns.
- Watch for repeated bodily movements. If you find that your character is always sighing, smiling, or giggling, do a search and replace and try to vary their movements.
- Be careful of character contradictions. These can be used to bring about depth of character in fiction, but they have to be done with intention!
I hope you found this helpful. If you have more character building tips or resources, please leave them in the comments!