How can we increase the odds of readers bonding with our main characters in those oh-so-crucial first few pages?
Bonding doesn't happen with every person we spend time with or every main character we start to read about. We are such unique creatures, so this isn't a surprise. I will form a temporary connection almost every time I meet another mom with young twins, but I betcha you won't. In fact, you might bow out politely when she starts raving about the double cost of diapers.
Bonding occurs when you've shared a similar experience.
The more universal the experience, the more we'll increase the odds of bonding. That's why so many books start with a death in the first few pages. Death is a universal experience (and taxes, but I dare you to get readers to bond with your MC over taxes).
I recently read Across the Universe, by Beth Revis (no spoilers, I promise). How did she get me to bond with her main character? Because, I know I'm in the minority here, but I have no experience being cryogenically frozen.
But she blended this creepy freezing scene with some universal things that we can all relate to: fear of being separated, fear of the unknown. Then she upped-the-stakes: she gave her MC the freedom to make a choice, where the decision has permanent, life-changing ramifications. And if that isn't enough to get you invested in Amy, the first 250 words include a "you go first" "no, you go first" dilemma, and yet another universal theme we can all relate to: the awkwardness of having to strip down naked.
XVI by Julia Karr gets you to bond with Nina over sexual issues (yeah, that strikes a cord with most of us) and the universal dread we all have of being controlled (GPS units embedded under the skin for tracking).
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson has this first sentence: "It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomach-ache." Universal feeling of nervousness about starting something new.
Now, some books offer some less-than-universal premises. For instance, I bonded instantly (the very first sentence) with the MC in Pegasus, by Robin McKinley. "Because she was a princess, she had a pegasus". I love princess stories and I love mythical creatures. But it's not exactly universal.
How about my own MC's - what do they offer to bond with? Uh oh, do I really have to ask myself this question?
I have one 13-year-old MC being forced to tramp around the wilderness of Alaska for her summer vacation when she'd rather be at the neighborhood pool with her friends.
Another book (women's fiction) has an MC that's being stood-up by her husband on her first anniversary.
The third book (YA) has a seventeen-year-old whose mother gets wrongly arrested, leaving the MC on her own.
I'm too close to these stories to evaluate how universal the feelings associated with these situations are. Um, you tell me.
And tell me about one of your memorable MC bonding experiences.
ps. I highly recommend this amazing series of seven posts on How to Create Compelling Characters, with lots of great examples from movies.
pps. Writing Nut at Writing in a Nutshell, you are my 300th follower! Yay for crusaders!
ppps. Discovered that a kick in the as* works even better than motivational cheers when it comes to catching up with my word count. Leave me a kick as* comment here, and you have a chance to win a $15 Amazon certificate (two winners) by 2/28.
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