Monday, May 24, 2010

What Makes You Care?

We all hear that in order to capture our readers' interest, we have to make them care about our main character on the first page.  But caring is a very subjective concept.  We all have different ways of connecting. A detail that grabs one person's attention may be completely meaningless to someone else.

It seems that gender is a factor, too.  Women seem to need more of an emotional connection, while men might be drawn into an exciting situation without knowing anything about the characters.

One of my pet peeves as a reader is the assumption that just because someone is in danger, I care about them.  I don't. For all I know, they deserve to be in danger.  Perhaps that woman being stalked in the parking garage at night is just too stupid to live.  Perhaps she's actually the villain and her victim is seeking revenge.

Even if neither of those premises is true, I still need to care about her somehow.

What do you think is the key to making readers care?


  1. Small details - like if the woman in the parking garage is agonizing over some dumb remark she just made at the office party to the colleague she fancies, and fishing for her car keys stuck under the torn lining of her old handbag she's been meaning to mend for weeks, and just wanting to get in her car and take her stupid heels off which are rubbing...

  2. So, Lexi, what is it about those things that makes you care? I know what you are saying, but I'm trying to understand WHY such things are important. It is entirely possible that someone could still be a terrible villainess and have the common experiences you describe.

    Or is simply a common experience enough?

  3. Aha, but I think you should do the same with the villain/villainess. Remember, the best villains think they're the hero, as Agatho said yesterday on his blog Mysterious Matters. I've no time for villains who are like no one you've ever met.

    I guess I'm trying to plug into our common humanity; that sense of connection which makes us relate to other people. Do that, and the reader will care.

  4. I think what I was getting at with the villain comment is that if I was lured into liking a character on the first page, then found out s(he) was the villain, I would feel manipulated. Antihero, okay. Villain, not okay.

    I'm just wondering if certain kinds of details are more compelling than others. The ones you gave are very good.

    Can anyone think of a detail that did not make you care?

    I recall reading the opening pages of a book in which a child is playing near a cliff, the edge crumbles, he falls and his legs are crushed. It was extremely graphic, but rather than being compelling, I felt manipulated and resentful that such violence was thrown at me and I was apparently expected to read on just because a child was involved.

  5. Christine, I think that sounds an amazing start to a story - the nice guy you identify with, who does something you deplore at the end of the chapter so you realize with a sense of shock he's the baddie. In fact I'm sure it's been done, I just can't think of any examples. I might have to do it myself.

    I agree re child-crushing. A turn-off for me is the man who is 'allowed' to indulge in violent revenge because his wife has been raped/tortured/killed.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Sorry about the delete -I hashed original post.


    I can't think of a book off-the-cuff, so to speak, that demonstrates how easily I was able to sympathise with a murderess, but I do remember a classic incident from a movie!

    The movie started with a woman's stiletto heels tapping along a sidewalk and then the camera panned all the way up her legs to the hat on her head. Chic, stunning, she looked like she was off to a naughty liaison when she turned into a hotel foyer.

    The scene change was to a bedroom a man getting it on in front of the window with a woman, he was really getting it on!!

    The scene flashed to the chic lady walking the hotel corridor, as she did so she slipped a gun from her handbag and quietly opened the hotel room door.

    The man getting it on didn't notice her until she said his name. He turned, (should have seen his face) and she aimed the gun at his groin and fired!

    Wow, was I routing for the shooter, guessing the man was her husband before she shot him!

    If that build up to the shooting had been in a book as a prologue (probably was) it would have hooked me straight off!




I apologize for the word verification. I hate it, but the spammers made me do it.