What’s the best way to initiate a solid protagonist character?
“You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, then you find out who they really are.” – Joss Whedon
Recently, it has become a running theme in the Under the Microscope series where I think a lot about how to create a rapid connection between the reader and the characters. I often find that it takes a chunk of time (sometimes a chapter or more) for the reader to get hooked onto the plot; even setting can take a handful of pages. I find that a compelling character is the quickest way to connect to a reader.
“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” -Ray Bradbury
I’ve talked a bit about what not to do in first chapters, but in this post, I’d like to focus on one area of what to do. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are books that have stunning settings and immediate plot twists, but even in those, I personally connect with the character the most. For every page that I don’t feel some sort of connection with the protagonist, the chances increase that I put the book down.
So, what is connecting to the character? What does that mean exactly? A lot of writing advice blogs will tout that sort of power phrase, leaving it up to you to figure out what it means. With this blog, I strive to give as many examples and concrete illustrations as I can. As a new writer, it frustrated me when vague terms were used without anything to back it up.
My only disclaimer before continuing is that none of this is an exhaustive list, in case someone was keeping track of something else I may have missed. There’s always a something else, which is the beauty of writing stories. There’s never one definitive list for anything.
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham
I believe most aspects of a reader connecting with a character comes down to four things: empathy, relatability, idolization, and intrigue. Some of these blend together a little, and still others are difficult to establish immediately, but in my opinion, these are the different tools in your character toolbox. When I start a story, my goal is to introduce at least one of these elements as soon as possible. Let’s take a look at each.