Baggage Claim

© Dan Wallace | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Ever notice how some characters are immediately interesting while others struggle to pull us in? I think a big part of the reason is, you guessed it, BAGGAGE.

A. Give your characters baggage
Even if it’s just a small quirk, all characters should be bringing something to the book before we read that first page. This helps set their motivations and drive their action. I’ll never forget my original beginning of the first book I worked through with my crit group. It literally opened with my MC walking along the beach, smiling.

Yikes! Where’s the tension? Where’s the conflict? Things were too perfect (And honestly, they should have been anything but. She was coming off a major solo journey that would have left anyone nerve-wracked.). But young Nicole hadn’t wanted to give readers a glimpse of that baggage right up front.

I learned.

I fixed it and completely changed the tone by starting in a slightly different place and letting that baggage (perfectionist, stubborn, weight of the world, mommy issues) influence her actions.

B. Let your readers see it, but don’t hit us over the head with it
It’s important to share parts of the characters’ baggage with readers – that’s what makes us sympathize with and care for them – but you want to dole it out slowly, a little at a time. Info dumps are not your friends. Did JK Rowling tell us all of Harry’s history in book one? Did we know the full horror of the Hunger Games and Katniss’ personal baggage with Peeta from the first page? Nope. But we knew some.

Everyone take out your “Show, don’t tell” merit badges. This is where you earn them again and again. Show us your characters’ actions are influenced by their histories, their fears or their faults. It advances the story and gives us a glimpse into their past.


  1. Congrats on so much to celebrate! How exciting! :D

    Yeah, baggage is important. It doesn't have to be a massive dark cloud of angst bringing your MC down, but they need something to happen to them.

    My favourite book for reading on a plane? Hmmmm... I tend to buy books especially for flights, so I wouldn't say I have a favourite as such.

  2. Congrats on graduating and hitting over 200 followers! :)

    This is a great post, especially what you say about giving history in small doses. Info dumps are the worst and something I remember doing a lot when I was just staring out writing.

    I'm like Miss Cole, I usually buy books specifically for a flight, or will be raiding any book stores at the airport (though I'll probably be doing that even if I have brought a book with me!)

  3. That soda and the book both look good! Funny you should bring this up, it's been on my mind a lot lately too. I went to a backstory class that I thought I was going to hate and ended up loving! Picking a backstory brings that baggage so much further. Have fun on your trip!

  4. Congratulations on all accounts!
    Baggage - definitely included that in my books.
    And I'll read anything on a plane that doesn't involve a plane crash.

  5. I totally agree with you, no one is free of baggage and neither should our fictional characters. Great advise, right there.

    Congrats on all your accomplishments! You really work hard and deserve all the accolades. =) Boy, that critique would suit me well, these days! ;-)

  6. My character's definitely come with baggage. The trick is to make sure you don't turn the reader off in the first pages.

    Yours had tension. I would be reading to see if a football came flying out of nowhere and hit her on the head. And then if a hot guy came to see if she's alright, and sparks fly, but she instantly hates him because that's sexual tension, right? *snickers*

  7. Awesome tips Nicole! I love this post. And congrats on all the wonderfulness that is going on with you right now!

  8. I agree with you on the baggage; the MC in one of my worlds is driven by guilt and does what he does as a form of penance.

    My top plane book would be Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. I read it on the way to and from a flight to Edinburgh, and I was completely absorbed the whole time!

    ALso, congrats on hitting the big 200 :)

  9. Absolutely! The "show, don't tell" method is so important when it comes to letting a character unfold naturally. Congrats on all of your milestones, and what generous prizes! :D

  10. Miss Cole - I'm not a fan of angst clouds either, and there are lots of ways to work in the idea of baggage.

    Laura - Thanks! I don't think I've ever bought a new book specifically for a flight...huh.

    J.A. - That backstory class sounds really useful!

    Alex - Yay for including baggage.

    Gina - Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Stina - Great point! We can't hit readers over the head with too much right away.

    Leigh - Thanks!

    Jamie - Sounds like your MC has believable motivation.

    Julie - Agreed! "Show, don't tell" helps make a great story.