site stats
Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, October 27, 2008

Let the Reader Get to Know Your Characters

Okay, so we've talked about hooking the reader and avoiding info/backstory dump in your first chapter. But another item I wanted to bring up is the necessity for you to allow your readers to get to know your characters in the opening pages of your book.

I've read too many chapter contest entries where the entire neighborhood is introduced, and far too much unnecessary info thrown into the opening chapters of a book, that I start to wonder who the book is about. Or, if too many characters are in the opening scenes, then they take up room (dialogue, action, inner thought, everything!) that belongs to your hero and heroine.

By the end of your contest entry pages, you want the reader to have a good idea of who the book is about (meaning, your hero and heroine). What are they like? What is their goal, motivation, conflict? Now, this goal may change, and I don't need to know the nitty gritty details (especially not all dumped into chapter one), but I want an idea of what the character is aiming for. And why it's important to him/her.

I want to feel like I've just been introduced to someone and their personality/dilema/situation/goal has me intrigued. Wanting to find out more. Wanting to go along on their journey with them.

Here's a quick example taken from Diane Gaston's historical romance novel Scandalizing the Ton. First we'll see the opening paragraphs in the hero's point of view (pov), followed by the opening paragraphs in the heroine's pov:

Leave me this instant!”

A woman’s voice.
Adrian Pomroy, the new Viscount Cavanley, barely heard her as he rounded the corner onto John Street. Not even halfway down the block he saw the woman stride away from a man. The man hurried after her. They were mere silhouettes in the waning light of this November evening and they took no heed of him.

Adrian paused to make sense of this little drama. It was most likely a lover’s quarrel, and, if so, he’d backtrack to avoid landing in the middle of it.

“One moment.” The man kept his voice down, as if fearing to be overheard. “Please!” He seized her arm.

“Release me!” The woman struggled frantically to pull away.

Lover’s quarrel or not, Adrian could not allow a woman to be treated so roughly. He sprinted forward. “Unhand her! What is this?”

[several pages later, we move into the heroine's pov]

Lydia’s heart raced at the feel of his large masculine hand enveloping hers. His grip was strong, the sort of grip that assured he was a man who could handle any trial. She now knew better than to make judgments based on such trivialities as a touch, but she could not deny he had been gentle with her. And kind.

It seemed so long since she’d felt kindness from anyone but her servants.

And even longer since she’d felt a man’s touch, since her husband left for Scotland, in fact. It shocked her how affected she was by Adrian Pomroy’s hand on hers. He warmed her all over, making her body pine for what only should exist between a husband and wife.

She took a breath. She’d always loved that part of marriage, the physical part, the part that was supposed to lead to babies...but she could not think of that. It was too painful.

It was almost easier to think of her husband. The Earl of Wexin.

The newspapers wrote that her husband killed Lord Corland so Wexin could marry her. Lord Corland’s death had been her fault.

She gripped Adrian’s hand even more tightly, sick that Wexin’s hands had ever touched her, hands that cut a man’s throat.

She thought she’d loved Wexin. She’d trusted him with everything--the finances, the decisions, everything. But she had not known him at all. He’d betrayed her and left her with nothing but shame and guilt.

Her happiness had been an illusion, something that could not last, like the baby that had been growing inside her the day Wexin left.

From these short passages I've already gotten a feel for both characters. Personally, I want to learn more about them.
Adrian is a gentleman with a caring streak. He is willing to stand up for what's right, protect the innocent and stand up to someone who is a bully. I like this guy!!

Lydia has a passionate side that has been taken for granted and hurt. She wants to believe in love, yet life and her husband have betrayed her. She's a loving woman, mourning the loss of her child, yet whose passion still simmers. I'd like to believe she's a fighter, and I want to find out.

Notice that I've gleaned all of this just in the opening passages of Diane's book. If you're uncertain about packing a punch in your opening chapters, take moment to dissect some of your favorite authors, or some of your favorite books and see how they do it.

You'll find a variety of writing styles in the Posse stables, and of course we're all willing to let you know what works for us, or what we try to do regarding our characters in the opening chapters of our books. If you have any questions, let us know.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on getting the right amount of info (balancing tween info dump and not enough) in your opening pages. How do you do it? Is there an author you feel does it amazingly well? Any concerns you might have about your opening chapters?


At 11:54 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Boy, that's a really good question, Priscilla. First-person POV *can* be easier for getting into your characters' heads, but you have to watch out for telling what the character is feeling rather than showing it. "He was so handsome," versus, "A light coating of sawdust coated his jeans. There's something about a man who works with his hands." In the latter, we learn about the thinker as well as the observed man. Although I often depend on dialogue, I actually love it when I learn a lot about a character by descriptive details. It's kind of like the author is Sherlock Holmes, giving you a lesson in what a person's appearance says about them.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Good point, Esri. Great description is fun to read. Boring description...not so much.

Thanks for making such great points, Pris!

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Esri, great comment and example!

I think we need to use a combination of dialogue and description whether it's the beginning middle of end of our books.

Getting inside a person's head gives us insight into their thoughts, as well as the view of the world through their eyes, which can also tell us about other characters.

I wanted to also get across the importance of letting the reader get a good "feel" or impression of your character in the opening pages.

If I'm judging a contest and I get to the end of the entry and I'm still wondering who the hero/heroine is, or still trying to figure out what their like, it's not a good sign.

I don't want an indepth character analysis in chapter one, but I want to know if she's feisty, or troubled, or introverted, or whatever.

Using Esri's example, I know the guy works outside, plies his trade with his hands (sawdust makes me think carpenter or cowboy), and I'm already thinking hunky. I could be wrong, but I wanna keep reading and find out.

As for the pov character-- she is attracted to virile, earthy men. Okay, that may be a stretch, but the way she syas "something about a man who works with his hands" comes across as a woman who'd be confident enough to take this guy on. I wanna get to know her, too. She sounds like fun.

Am I making any sense?

At 9:05 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Great analysis, Pris! I think you can learn a lot about a character from someone else's POV. In The Raven's Heart, your first impression of the hero is from the heroine's POV. Does that work?

At 5:34 AM, Blogger Dianna Love said...

Great post Pris. I think Esri hit on it when she showed the difference in active description and just telling the reader what a character sees. I think the biggest thing is figuring out what a reader needs to know at "that moment in that scene" and weaving in the other details in the story as they become significant.

And if it was easy, everyone would do this, right? "g"

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Pris! Here you used my book as an example and I wasn't even around to comment!

Beginnings are hard. I like to start with action, something exciting. On some screenwriting speech or article or book, I remember learning how an exciting beginning can hook the reader. The example was the first Indiana Jones movie, where his capture of the gold god artifact really had nothing to do with the story..except it did hook you and it did briefly introduce you to the hero and the villain.

I try to have my beginnings relate to the story, though.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]