Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Make 'em Cheer for Your Characters!

Make 'em Cheer for Your Characters!
By Missy Tippens

Okay, admission time. I’ve been working on a proposal, and I realized I did NOT like my heroine. She just wasn't sympathetic at all. After asking some of you what makes you pull for a heroine, I got some really good answers. (See near the end of the comments for this day’s post). I also sent the planned backstory and story opening to our Seeker email loop and got lots of feedback. We’re always honest with each other (although Ruthy tries her best not to bruise my feelings ;)), so I got some great feedback. Lots of ideas to play with. On Monday, I re-worked the first chapter and am so excited about the changes. I love my heroine now!

Whenever I consider how to make my readers immediately bond with my main characters, I think of Michael Hauge's advice. (You've seen this before in a post by Myra.) According to Hauge in his DVD “The Hero’s 2 Journeys,” the main goal of storytelling is to elicit emotion. We want to elicit the type emotion that helps our reader feel for our character. To pull for her. According to Hauge, we do that by employing at least two of the following:
giving the character undeserved misfortune.
putting the character in jeopardy (could be as simple as a job at risk).
making the character an especially likable or good person (think of Save the Cat moments from Blake Snyder’s how-to books).
making the character funny (who doesn’t bond with a person who makes you laugh??).
making the character powerful or especially good at something.

So pick at least two and you should be well on the way to making your main characters relatable and sympathetic.

Some examples that Seekers shared with me…

From Mary Connealy, an excerpt from Deep Trouble, where you have a Damsel in Distress (a character in jeopardy). And for me as the reader, there’s also a character experiencing undeserved misfortune (a lack of gold). Here’s the opening of Deep Trouble:

“Where’s the gold!”
Shannon Dysart fell back a step in the face of her guide’s fury then squared her shoulders. Showing weakness to Lobo Cutter was a mistake. Hiring him was a mistake. Leaving St. Louis was a mistake.
“Mr. Cutter, I employed you to help me find an ancient city. We’ve done that. It’s spectacular. Imagine the research—”
Cutter stormed right up to Shannon’s face. The spurs on his boots made an ugly metallic ring with every step. “A city of gold, them was your own words when you asked me to sign aboard this trip into the west.”
His fists clenched and moved too close to the Colt six shooter in his holster. He was a brute of a man brought along mainly to handle the pack animals. But once they’d found this place he’d worked as hard as any of the six people in their expedition searching these ruins.
But he’d finally faced the same fact Shannon just had—after three days of searching this ancient cliff city. There was no gold.
“I wasn’t searching for this city to make myself rich, Mr. Cutter. My father’s research was—”
“Your father was an old fool.”

From Cara Lynn James, and sneak-peek excerpt from Love By the Book (coming in August). Melinda is the victim of undeserved (unexpected) misfortune, and doubly so:

Melinda’s sharp intake of breath shattered the silence. All eyes turned toward her, but Melinda could do nothing but stare at the attorney. Had she misheard her sister’s will? Or had he misread it? How could Cora leave her daughter to Melinda’s care—as well as Nick’s? She couldn’t imagine.

Cora had never mentioned such an odd arrangement, but then again her sister normally avoided unpleasant subjects. A wave of panic swept through Melinda. No one loved Nell more than she. No one. But being a mother was far different than being the doting aunt...

And from Ruth Logan Herne:

Ruthy gave me the set up for Small-Town Hearts (coming this month!). I believe she’s set it up so we the hero is powerful (in his regular life pre-small town), and also he’s the victim of misfortune by the fact he’s found a woman that interests him, yet he’s going to be forced to butt heads with her. Here’s what Ruthy said…

In Small-Town Hearts, I took my big-city-addicted hero and plunked him into small town obscurity on a good will mission for his aging grandmother. Why?

Well, he and his sister are heirs-apparent to a huge East Coast candy store with origins in Allegany County, NY. Now housed just outside of Buffalo with flagship stores in all the major East Coast cities and franchise stores in smaller venues, Grandma Mary's Candies wrote the book on product development and merchandising. But the current Grandma Mary wants to build a small tribute store in honor of her mother, Mary Sandoval, who started the business on the front porch of an itty-bitty house on Route 19. So instead of romping around big cities and the great night life venues therein, Danny's on a fact-finding mission while his sister spreads her capitalistic wings by taking over the East Coast venues. His sister is still spinning over the death of her fiance in Afghanistan, and protective big brother Danny isn't sure she's ready for the variances of the city venues, but Danny's mother IS sure.

And the women in Danny's family are not to be messed with!

So Danny finds himself in nowhereville, trying unsuccessfully to blend in, and the first thing he sees is a crotchety store owner dressing down a young man with Downs Syndrome for toppling a sidewalk display of piled fruit...

A young man accompanied by a sassy and captivating young woman dressed in nineteenth century-styled clothing, the nipped waist and fitted bodice far more interesting than anything Danny had discovered in eleventh grade American history! Danny can't deny the allure of the quaint town and enchanting woman, but when she hands him a business card that says she owns the Colonial Candy Kitchen, purveyors of fine chocolates, understandable doom descends.

Danny is destined to put her and her little candy store out of business.

I really like the opening of The Rancher's Reunion by Tina Radcliffe. In the first paragraphs we see the heroine has been the victim of some misfortune that has injured her leg. We also get the feeling her heart is in jeopardy by her love for Will. Here's an excerpt of the opening of The Rancher's Reunion:

"You look awful." Will Sullivan shoved his hands into the back pockets of his Wranglers and continued his intense scrutiny.

"Well, you haven't changed a bit," Annie Harris said with a laugh. Leave it to Will to cut to the chase.

In truth, he hadn't changed. He was everything she remembered. Hatless today, his blue-black hair was clipped short to control the unruly curls. Will thought he could control everything. Standing inches over six feet tall in a faded blue oxford shirt, jeans and scuffed boots, he scowled.

Annie took an unsteady breath. Oh, how she had missed that scowl.

She gripped her cane tighter and glanced around the busy Tulsa airport. Had it really been two years? For only a second did she allow her thoughts to drift back to when she made the decision to leave for Kenya. The same day she realized she was in love with Will Sullivan.

"Sit down for a minute," Will said, interrupting her thoughts. "You've got to be exhausted."

"I'm okay. Really. The hospital wouldn't have okayed me to travel if I wasn't ready. Come on. Let's get my luggage and get out of here."

"Your leg? Maybe I should get a wheelchair?"

"Oh, I don't need a wheelchair." Determined, she grasped her cane and broke out in what she knew was a clumsy stride.

In my current release, A Family for Faith, my hero is a grieving widower with a rebellious almost-teen daughter. That’s the victim of undeserved misfortune. I also tried to make him likable and maybe a little funny in his thoughts. He’s trying so hard with his daughter, even though he’s clueless. I hope that makes the reader really like him. And so far, I’ve had a lot of reader emails that say they love him! (Thank you readers who take the time to write reviews and emails!) I shared an excerpt in a previous post. You can click here if you’d like to read it.

What about your story opening? Have you really socked it to your character by putting her in jeopardy or making her a victim? Or have you made him likable, powerful or funny? Try to do at least two of those things, and you should be well on your way to pulling in your reader, having her cheer for your characters.

So what techniques have you used in your story opening?


Vince said...

Hi Missy:

I think Betty Neels has the most sympathetic heroines in all of Romance.

Here is a typical heroine found in many of her books:

The heroine has been neglected and exploited by her parents or, if they are dead, by relatives. She is young. If she inherited her parents home, relatives have cheated her out of it.

Something happens and she has to leave her home in the middle of the night. It is raining. She has little to no money and no where to go. She also takes a pet or two who the relatives don’t want or would mistreat. She is often a nurse or has only caregiver experience. As she is walking in the rain she is still optimistic and is most concerned for her poor pets.

A very rich man sees her in the dark walking along the road in the rain and offers her a ride. He has a Rolls Royce and is a very important doctor usually from Holland but sometimes he is English. He just happens to have a aging relative who needs a full time, live in, caregiver. The heroine takes the job.

The old person, often the hero’s mother or aunt who raised him, loves the heroine and hates the fancy women the hero dates. None of the fancy women love the hero, they are just after the status of being his wife.

The heroine is most often very plain. She has no idea the hero has any interest in her until the very end of the book when he confesses his love for her.

This same plot with minor variations was used dozens of times. The heroine is so sympathetic that you actually do want to stand and cheer when she finds happiness. The joy in the heroine’s joy is only matched by the end of the Christmas Carol. No kidding.

Betty Neels essentially wrote the same book over 100 times and her fans loved each of them. I have all her books except one of them which is a very high dollar purchase. Many of her books are available on eHarlequin and they keep adding more.


Nancy Kimball said...

Missy, thanks for a great post. I enjoyed the seeker excerpts especially.

I use these:
Giving the character undeserved misfortune.
Putting the character in jeopardy.
HOPEFULLY making them likable and real.

Dianna Shuford said...

In my current WIP, I've given my hero undeserved misfortune (the death of his parents) and putting his life in jeopardy (fighting for his life) in my opening pages.

Your post was a great reminder of all the things that make our H/H likeable. Missy, thanks for putting these ideas into words.

Lindi said...

Great post, Missy. The reader needs to have a reason to care about the characters.

Audra Harders said...

Loved the opening examples, Missy. Wonderful starts to wonderful books that draw the reader whether they want to or not, LOL!

You are so right about likable characters, what's the point of reading for precious hours if you don't like the characters? Why would you care what happens to them?

Great reminder to take several looks at those opening pages. If you don't find something to root for, you'd better massage your H/H a bit!

I've brought a pot of chocolate truffle coffee for those who'd like to indulge : ) Mmm, coffee and chocolate, my two favorite flavors!!

Missy Tippens said...

Vince, I don't think I've ever read her. That's amazing how she tapped into reader emotions. Most of us will pull for the underdog!

Thanks for sharing about Betty.

Missy Tippens said...

Nancy, thanks for sharing your methods. We love a hero or heroine who's being unfairly persecuted. And if you throw them into danger, we HAVE to keep reading to find out what happens! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Good job, Dianna! I'm thinking back to the stories of yours I've read, and I think maybe that's a new one. Sounds good!

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Lindi! You're really good at doing the funny characters. I love Allison right off the bat in Her Best Catch!

Missy Tippens said...

Oh, Audra, I totally forgot the coffee! Where are my manners?! :) Thanks for watching out for me.

Pam Hillman said...

Thanks for all the examples, Missy. I haven't had coffee, so I can't even begin to describe what obstacles my characters face in my openings! lol

But they DO face obstacles!

I remember that much...

Who's got the coffee pot???

Kirsten Arnold said...

Thanks for the great examples, Missy, for making our H/H someone worth cheering for from the beginning.

In my recent wip, my hero was very sympathetic from the minute he entered the story (hired gun with a big heart). But my heroine was just kind of there. She had obstacles, but nothing about her personnally to cause a reader to pull for her. I had to go back after I knew her and her past better to include some real emotion and character. Now she's one of my favorite heroines ever.


Cara Lynn James said...

Loved your post, Missy! I used to make my heroines unsympathetic in the beginning of the story, but my crit partners suggested I make them sympathetic right from the start. Otherwise readers might not stick around. Great advice!

KC Frantzen said...

Missy - good post, and it's been a pleasure to read what others are doing.

Writing amazes me still. There's so much to learn, so much about structure and techniques for success, just like anything else!

This is another to ponder as we continue paddling to get off the Island. :)

Oh my yes. My poor little May the K9 spy begins caged in an abusive situation, but hopefully she is seen to have some sparkles (thanks for that fabulous term, Vince) and humor that make her likeable.

When she gets 25 more "likes" on her FB page, I'll start posting some of the illustrations from the book. (YES Julie, another tease! I've learned from the experts here at Seekerville.) C'monnnn by!

In the meantime, where's that coffee... yawn

KC Frantzen said...

May just stamped her paw. She wants to thank Mr. Vince for telling about a heroine, typical or otherwise, who would care for unwanted pets so much.

Missy Tippens said...

Kirsten, that's a great point. Sometimes we have to add this after we've gotten to know the characters better.

In my case, I had to change the character's backstory. I wanted her to have a lot of growth, but I decided you can't always start a character off in a really bad place (or her own making). Readers have to be able to relate.

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Pam. I'm sorry to tax your brain this morning. Especially before caffeine. hehe

(Did I spell caffeine right? It doesn't look quite right!)

Missy Tippens said...

Cara, yeah. It's nice to show a lot of growth, but we can't start them off so bad no one wants to be around them! LOL

Janet Dean said...

Missy, excellent tips and examples of how to hook readers and make our characters likeable!

In Wanted: A Family, my heroine Callie is a pregnant widow housing an unwed pregnant teenager in her rundown Victorian house. Without money and the support of family, Callie’s ripping out crumbling floorboards on her porch—or trying to. She's easy to root for because she's got spunk--she's not a quitter--and a good heart.

So undeserved misfortune, character in jeopardy and a good person are the three things I used to elicit emotion from the reader.


Missy Tippens said...

KC, I'm sure you use the humor Hauge talked about. :) We'll love May!

BTW, tell May thanks for reading today. ;) I think I've already liked her page but will go by just to make sure.

Missy Tippens said...

Well, I hadn't liked her yet! So I just did. I think what I remembered was voting for her photos. :)

Grammar Diva Darlene said...

Hi Missy,

Great tips and stated so clearly! I'm placing them in a permanent file.

I'm not familiar with Betty Neels books, but now that Vince perked my curiosity, I'll have to get a couple of her novels.

KC, my dog Bailey can't wait to see more of May than her illustrations...umm, that means the story! He's harmless.

KC Frantzen said...

May here.

Thanks Miss Missy. I'm wiggling my whole self that you came by and liked my page, AND a photo previously. Righty-o! Way to go!!

Hi Bailey! I invited Miss Missy to play but I see she's pretty busy hostessing on Seekerville today. Thanks for wanting to see more of me... I don't get what your Mom was talking about but no matter. I'm harmless too, even though I growl when I'm playing. :)

I have to get Mom out of here though. She has 7 more chapters to proof and get back to the illustrator for the FINAL!!!

Y'all have a PAWSOME day!

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Darlene! I thought the same thing. Will check out her books. I see them all the time.

Jan Drexler said...

Hi Missy -

Great timing on this post! I just spent an hour working on my hero's character, giving him a more solid backstory.

I find it easy to create likeable heroes, but the heroine takes a lot more work! So far she has undeserved misfortune, and she's in jeopardy (although she doesn't know it yet), but I need to give her that extra something - spunk? humor? - that makes her compelling to the reader. Getting to know her is on my list of things to do tomorrow, and I'll be keeping your post handy as I work.

I brought some homemade blueberry muffins to share. My boys are late risers this morning, so there are plenty!

Myra Johnson said...

Excellent points AND examples, Missy! I do sometimes struggle to make my central characters likable. They're supposed to have problems, right? Room to grow, right?

So it's a delicate balance to give them just enough flaws and yet keep them sympathetic.

And I'm going to beat Miss Julie to the punch and throw in the Scarlett O'Hara example. Talk about a heroine you love to hate--and hate to love!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow, great picture of me in my cape. I didn't realize you even had a copy.

Great examples (even mine, haha)

I always, always remember what I learned once at a workshop and I think it was Alicia Rasely was talking about Medias Res(medias res or medias in res (into the middle of things.

Always start your story on the day when everything changes. The day that is different from every other. The point where change is occuring or about to break loose.

Tina Radcliffe said...

And I always use Michael Hague's list for my characters as well.

He's going to be at RWA again this year. Don't miss it. And if you must, then go to Screen Play Mastery dot com and get his DVD The Heroes Two Journeys.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Betty Neels has been around for a long, long time. Australian? British? I forgot which one.

Missy Tippens said...

Yay, Jan! Glad the timing was good for you. :)

If you're looking to add something, check out Blake Snyder's Save the Cat book. He talks about how our heros need to have a moment in the beginning (of the movie, in the case of his examples) where the hero does something like saving a cat to make him likable and heroic. Maybe he pets a dog, or talks nice to a child or stops to help someone. Those kinds of things. It's always fun to think up save the cat moments! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Excellent examples, Janet! Yes, we're definitely rooting for Callie in your opening. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Myra, I had a thought after reading your comment. I think in romance novels we, as authors, have to be more conscious of making the heroine likable. I think the reader allows for more flaws and growth in women's fiction. I also think a reader might allow a hero to start off a little rougher around the edges. Readers like to see the heroine force the guy to change. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Yeah, Tina. I snuck that photo of you playing in your cape. ;)

And I also snuck your excerpt in there. Hope you don't mind. :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Why would I mind PR? The check is in the mail!!

Mary Connealy said...

I remember contest critiques that said, "I don't like your heroine (or hero)."
I struggled with that so much. Especially because we all know our characters need to grow, personally and in faith, so we have to make them troubled, conflicted, imperfect. And yet, when we do that, they're unlikeable.
So you say to the contest judges (in your head, who talks to contest judges?), "My character is going to grow. You're going to like her later."
The contest judge says, "I won't know that because I'm not going to keep reading about your jerk of a heroine."

it's all about balance.

I read somewhere that, even though a hero and heroine have to immediately clash (to put off the inevitable True Love and Happily Ever After until the END of the book) they should always have a spark of attraction, right from the first instant they see each other.

You can, of course RUIN that really fast,(you HAVE to ruin that) but you need that moment, that flash.

Of course in Doctor in Petticoats she loathed the hero, thought he was a drunk. A smelly drunk.
So no flash there.

I will conclude this comment by saying, "I probably don't know what I'm talking about."

Jan Drexler said...

Missy said -

"I also think a reader might allow a hero to start off a little rougher around the edges. Readers like to see the heroine force the guy to change."

I agree! Who doesn't want to be reminded of the influence a good woman can have in a man's life? But it's even more intriguing when the woman doesn't do it on purpose. The hero just wants to change to be worthy of her.

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

Betty Neels was born in England, 1909 and died in England in 2001. She wrote 134 novels all for Mills & Boon. She was an SRN (RN to USA) and Certified Midwife. She married a rich Dutch doctor and lived for a time in Holland. She knew exactly what she was writing about.

From Wikipedia

“Her writing career began almost by accident. It began when she heard a woman in her local library bemoaning the lack of good romance novels. Though she had retired from nursing, her mind had no intention of vegetating. So she got a typewriter and developed what was to become a fantastic loving relationship with her millions of readers around the world.”

She wrote her first romance when she was 60! (There’s still time everyone). Her fans would not let her stop writing romances.

She is also the best ‘descriptionist’ (my term). Her interior descriptions of the homes of rich people are fantastic.

Thing amazing thing about Betty is that I know exactly how she is going to exploit my emotions, I can actually see her doing it, step by step, and it works anyway! That’s power.

I don’t think she wrote a single heroine that I didn’t want to jump into the book to rescue.

Be prepared. There are Betty Neels people and there are people who are not Betty Neels people. After I read my first Betty Neels novel, I read 30 more in a row. It was hard to stop and read other authors.

BTW: If you are going to read your first Betty Neels book, I suggest you read one of her first ten books.

Sister Peters in Amsterdam (1969)
Amazon in an Apron (1969) aka A Match for Sister Maggy / Nurse in Holland
Blow Hot, Blow Cold (1970) aka Surgeon from Holland / Visiting Surgeon / Visiting Consultant
Tempestuous April (1970) aka Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland
Damsel in Green (1970)
Fate is Remarkable (1970)
Tulips for Augusta (1971)
Tangled Autumn (1971)
The Fifth Day of Christmas (1971)

TMI. I know, but I can’t help it.


Tina Radcliffe said...

I have read her. I just can't remember what I've read.

Her first book at 60. I LOVE THAT.

Joanne Sher said...

Great post, Missy. Definitely need to think about my heroine from this perspective.

And RUTHIE! I LLLOOVVVEEE your new cover! So bright and eye-catching!

Mary Connealy said...

My focus on a books beginning is always explosive action.

Weaving in a likeable character is inconvenient. :)

How do I do that and have someone falling over a cliff or stopping a run away stagecoach. That's a lot for one writer to manage. And yet we must.

How do we make them likable...someone once told me you make your characters likable by having someone like them.

Introduce a friend, a pet, a sister. And you have to do it BRIEFLY because the main focus of the beginning of a book is often the hero and heroine.
So have her be an abrasive jerk, but have a best friend who loves her just for who she is, who knows her inside and out.

I think one of the best examples of this is Jennifer Crusie's book Bet Me. This is NOT a Christian novel so be warned. But the heroine in that book is as close to a man eater as any woman you'll ever meet. Not slender, Not beautiful, Not sweet. And yet the book opens with her and her two best friends. And with those friends we can see the good in her, the likableness in her, because otherwise she wouldn't have friends, right? Then a man approaches her and she goes on the attack....and then she decides she can string him along to get a date to her sister's wedding....then she hears him make a bet with an ex boyfriend of hers that he can get her into bed.

Which makes her loathe him even more, though WE know she didn't hear what she thinks she heard.

And so begins our romance.

Kav said...

Oh dear -- what if you employ more than just two? What if we have thrown in the whole list in some way or another? Overkill?!

Love all your examples, Missy and love that I've read nearly all of them too. The only exceptions are: Love By the Book which isn't out yet, Small-town Hearts which is being shipped and I haven't quite finished Deep Trouble but I'm in the thick of it!

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, man, MISSY, GREAT POST!!! And I am two scenes away from wrapping up my final O'Connor book and in dire need of this post today because I realized that several characters need some help with likability, so THANK YOU!!!

Now if I can just get the darn thing done first before I majorly revise AND before deadline ... :)


Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Mary. Of course you know what you're doing. You have us so involved with the humor of your heroine, plus she's showing her superpower by saving the day, that we don't have to see that spark just yet. The "drunk" helps save the day at the last second, so we know he's going to have some redeeming value.

Excellent balance! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Jan, that's another great point! We want the guy to want to be heroic. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Vince, I didn't know that about Betty! Very cool info. Thanks for sharing!

Missy Tippens said...

Joanne, it is a cute cover, isn't it? I can't wait to read the story.

Missy Tippens said...

Great example, Mary. And yes, you are the queen of action-packed openings! Yet it is possible to weave in snippets of everything we need to fit in that opening.

Of course, that's hard. And a challenge we all face. We sometimes end up banging our heads on the desk. But isn't that the fun of it?? The challenge, that is. Not the head banging. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Kav, that's a great questions. I wonder if you can cram in too much? Maybe not. If you handle it with a light touch. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Julie! You can do it!! We're here cheering for you. :)

Linnette R Mullin said...

I use emotional turmoil, confusion, fear over the possibility of betrayal and infidelity on her fiancés part for my heroine's opening. She's sweet and loyal yet tough. She's hurting and confused. So, she runs. Not because she's running from problems but rather running to answers.


Linnette R Mullin said...

Great Mary addition to a great post.


Tina I love this: Always start your story on the day when everything changes. The day that is different from every other. The point where change is occuring or about to break loose.

That is exactly what I did in my wip.

Missy Tippens said...

Linnette, sounds like you have a good handle on your opening! A good way to build reader empathy.

travelingstacey said...

I started my story off with suspense. The main character in jeopardy and eventually a victim. I didn't actually intend on doing that and wrote the prologue a good bit after I started. It seemed to need it, though. When I've read other books like that, I am immediately drawn in because of that desire to know how things get resolved. Even if it's in a good or bad way, I've got to know! : ) ~Stacey

Missy Tippens said...

Stacey, that's so true. Suspense is a great way to hook a reader. And even when we don't write suspense, he have to put a story question in the reader's mind. How will these characters overcome such and such problem? :)

Renee Ann said...

Another great post! Thanks, Missy. This is an aspect of writing I've recently been focused on. And, BTW, I agree with Vince about Betty Neels. I loved all her heroines! But one thing you forgot, Vince. Though plain, the heroine often had beautiful eyes.

Debby Giusti said...

Love Michael Hauge. I keep his book close to my desk and have many sections underlined and dog eared. When Michael talks, I listen.

When you blog, I always tune in, too. Good stuff...great stuff. Loved reading the beginnings of the Seeker books.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

The examples for making our POV character more sympathetic are so helpful, Missy. That was a big problem for me as I wanted to give the character room for growth and improvement. After many unfavorable comments about an unsympathetic heroine, I got the message. She must be likeable right from the start. Glad for the post. I've used some of those suggestions.

Nancy Kimball said...

Has a book ever successfully introduced the hero/heroine in the 2nd chapter?

I think my first chapter might need to be a prologue, but I can't eliminate it because it's not really "backstory". It's happening in the present, between the hero's parents.

If I open in my hero's first scene, it won't make sense that he's meeting his father for the first time at the age of twelve because his mother is dying.

Is his mother's confession and his father's reluctant promise to care for him a prologue, backstory that has to be woven in later, or like most things I write, marching to its own drummer?

Missy, I in no way mean to hijack the thread, I'm just in a delima similar to your referenced post in this one. If I'm being feaux pa, please let me know.

Missy Tippens said...

Renee Ann, I'm glad it helped.
Debby, thank you!

Missy Tippens said...

Pat Jeanne, like Mary said, it's a fine line. I think the most important thing is to make them likable at first. Then once you establish that, you can show their faults. My then. we'll love them and won't care so much. :)

The main thing is that the reader feels bonded. Invested. Otherwise, they'll shut the book and put it back. Or hit the back button on the e-reader. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Stupid computer keeps turning off!


Missy, thank you for letting me be part of this, how much fun!

And I love these heroes and heroines. Just love 'em....

Will Sullivan? Oh, YUM!!!

Cara's Melinda.... Oh, don't you just want to help her????

Mary's "Shannon???"

I want to personally take down the bad guys for her!

Leaving Chinese noodle candies. With Spanish peanuts. Very global!

Missy Tippens said...

Nancy, thanks for sharing your dilemma. Don't ever worry about asking a question around here! :)

I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean by the present. Is your hero 12? Is it a young adult story? If so, I would say it could be a really poignant scene to have him present, or even eavesdropping on the conversation. It could set up some nice conflict with the father.

If you're talking about an adult novel, and your hero is grown, then you are talking about backstory that goes back to when he's 12. In that case, it would probably be best to somehow reveal the scene little by little in his conversations with others or in his thoughts. Or you could even do a flashback if he was present for the scene (although I hear lots of people warn not to do flashbacks).

Maybe you could fill me in better if those scenarios are way off for what you have planned. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Hey, Ruthy. Sorry about the computer woes!! Our power has blinked off several times this afternoon. I'm thankful my laptop is fully charged!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hmmm. I didn't know these things were already listed somewhere. I just always knew I could make my characters likeable if I could make the reader feel sorry for them (undeserved misfortune), or if I could make them look really noble (saving a dog, the urge to rescue a damsel in distress, being kind to a child), or if the character was funny in a self-deprecating sort of way. Yikes. All my secret techniques aren't secret at all.

Linnette R Mullin said...

Thanks, Missy! I won a 5 page critique with you guys, so I can't wait to get my feedback. I worked really hard (still am) on revisions from my Genesis feedback. I'm hoping its much better than before.

Vince said...

Hi Missy:

I should have pointed out in my posts that I used the heroine examples I did because they usually meet all five of your criteria. I just wanted to show how powerful this list is – especially if you use all five!)

1. giving the character undeserved misfortune. (Every time)
2. putting the character in jeopardy (could be as simple as a job at risk). (Every time)
3 making the character an especially likable or good person (Every time)
4. making the character funny ( Yes, almost every time if you count innocent naïveté; they make the hero laugh and find joy in his very serious world).
5. making the character powerful or especially good at something. (Yes, they are either great nurses or caregivers).

And yes, Renee Ann, the heroines always have beautiful eyes to go with their beautiful souls.


Debby Giusti said...

Ruthy, what are Chinese noodle candies?

I'm going to book club tonight. What fun to talk books and writing and writers! Reminds me of Seekerville!

Only Seekerville is more fun!

But, shhhh...don't tell my book club.

Nancy Kimball said...

Thank you Missy!

He's actually 12 when the book begins. He's 26 when it ends.
It's not a young adult story but I can see how it would present with just that info.

It's historical woman's fiction (that's both inspirational and has strong romantic elements). Or as another seeker aptly said... it's own, new, sub-genre LOL.

I was the kid that colored the sky yellow and the grass blue in elementary.

Jackie S. said...

I learn so much on Seekerville! I appreciate what Vince said about Betty Neels....just today I saw some of her books, but thought "I don't know anything about her" so passed on by. Before I buy a new author (to me), I like to have heard someone mention or recommend them. So Vince convinced me I should try her books! Thanks!!

Faye said...

Loved the advice! Hard to root for character that nobody can love.

Missy Tippens said...

Gosh, Mel, you should have published your methods sooner!! ;)

Missy Tippens said...

Linnette, that's great that the feedback you got from the Genesis was helpful. I bet you'll be pleased with the results. I'm always so pleased after I've made the changes my editor asks for.

Missy Tippens said...

Nancy, I thought about historical later (after I left the house to go to church)! :)

Sounds like a great story.

In the case you just gave, and without reading any of it (so take this for what's it's worth), I would still suggest working your hero in at the beginning. Readers need to know who to bond with and they may think they're to bond with the father. If you open with him peeping in on the conversation, and in his POV, then it'll be painful (he'll be the victim of undeserved circumstances) and the reader will really feel for him.

Good luck with it!! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Vince, that answered the question about using more than two. Apparently, you can't do too much! :)

Missy Tippens said...

Jackie, I also like to buy based on recommendations.

Missy Tippens said...

Debby, I'm so jealous. We don't have a book club. I've been wondering if I should start one. Of course, then they'd feel obligated to read my books even if they don't want to. LOL

Missy Tippens said...

Faye, glad you found it helpful!

Nancy Kimball said...

Thanks Missy!

CatMom said...

Great post, Missy - - and exactly what I needed to read! I tend to go too easy on my characters *sigh* and don't want them to endure too much hardship--but I'm working on being tougher (grin) to increase the conflict and tension in my story. So glad to have these suggestions--thank you SO much! Hugs, Patti Jo :)
p.s. Since we both live in GA, we're going to have to find a halfway point to meet for lunch sometime! (and include Debby and any other Georgia girls!) ;)

Missy Tippens said...

Patti Jo, I'd love to meet! Maybe in downtown Atlanta. I'll come down, you and Debby come up. :)

Pepper said...

Ruthy tries to spare your feelings, Missy? What?!?
Why didn't she do that when editing my ms? ;-)

Sorry I'm late to the party. I just got back in from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I was a day guest, so commuted - but BOY. WHAT. A. DRIVE!!! LOVELY!

Anyway - this is a great reminder, Missy.
I like the idea of jeapardy and funny - maybe at the same time. But I also thin that if you make the character likeable - even without the funny - it can make the reader cheer for her. If she's kind, or helps someone in need/danger - we want good things to happen to good people.
THEN you have her fall off of a cliff or get chased by bandits or board a ship that's going to know, the simple things like that :-)

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Pepper! Yeah, she tries. ;)

Glad you had a great trip! I want to do that one someday.

Karen Lange said...

Thanks for all this helpful info! Developing some characters as we speak so this will come in handy. :)
Have a great weekend!

Andrea Strong said...

Missy~ I love this post. It's encouraging in so many ways. As I read, I thought of my characters and which of these things are present in them, and which I need to add.

My heroine has undeserved misfortune all over the place. Her husband was put in prison for 10 years for bank robbery. Then, when she's expecting him home any day, she get's word that he died of pneumonia. 10 years of caring for herself and her son, excepting as little family help as necessary, has made her very strong and independent. She's very likable, in fact probably too much so. She needs a flaw to make her realistic.

My hero is a real "save the cat" kind of guy. And he too has the undeserved misfortune going for him (lost his wife and daughter in childbirth, after they miscarried two times before). His anger at God over his loss serves as a flaw to make him real.

Again, Great Post. I love the ones that get me thinking about my stories.

I think I need to find that dvd.

Andrea Strong said...

I've been monkeying with my opening in my head recently. I've been told by some people I like and trust that I should start in a different spot. I confess I didn't like those people a whole lot when they told me, but I may be about to agree with them.

Tina's comment on starting the story on the day things change is a reminder. What event marks the moment when nothing will ever be the same as it was? That's where I need to start.

Thanks, folks, I really needed this.

Missy Tippens said...

Andrea, I'm glad it was helpful! Those DVD's are great and go way beyond the opening of the story.

Missy Tippens said...

Karen, I'm glad it was good timing for you!