|© 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 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.