Many writers are afraid of a blank page. The white background with that beguiling curser blinking back at you, beckoning you to paint the page with words. How do you start? The first sentence of a story or book can be pivotal to a reader; a deciding factor on whether or not they will continue your tale or begin flipping through television channels. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, states that he puts a lot of effort into the first sentences of his books. That’s because a reader shouldn’t have to struggle through back story in order to discover what’s going to happen, it should just happen. Sure, characters have a past, but there’s an old saying among authors: show don’t tell. Your story’s beginning shouldn’t be a history lesson. Some like to open with dialogue while others prefer action. You hold the cards to your characters past and personality, and if you show your hand too early everything will grind to a standstill. Nobody wants that. Your story has to move, it has to put one foot in front of the other, one word after another. So, think of the situation, the engaging moment that will draw your readers’ attention, and just start walking.
What makes a great character? Someone who you’ll follow all the way through a story, his/her journey to overcome whatever dangers have been presented?
A colleague suggested readers are not interested in imperfect leads anymore, that part of the fantasy is indulging in the concept that there exists a perfect character that’s not only highly attractive, but also holds extraordinary abilities. Was there ever a time when books followed an imperfect main character? Sure, I’ve read quite a few books where that’s just the case. From an alcoholic private eye who’s dying of cancer and decides to take on one last case, to a humble Hobbit having a grand adventure thrust upon him. These sorts of characters are becoming less known in the modern realm of fiction, however.
A strikingly handsome detective who always out smarts the villain is a much more satisfying read to many people. These characteristics do not make our heroes great, but super. Ever watch CSI and marvel at the fact that a small team of super humans can solve incredibly intricate cases in forty-four minutes?
Not everything in the world is so cut and dry, and not every person is so, well, super. Often enough, a well rounded character is going to be a better one, in my opinion; someone who has faults, who makes mistakes, because these are the things that make a character relatable. Likable, even. You want to see them struggle, as morbid as that sounds, because you want to root for them to succeed in the end. To overcome not only the obstacle represented in the story, but their own personal demons, their own private remorse and uncertain thoughts making them wonder if they truly are up to the task. These are some of the qualities and imperfections I like to discover in a lead character. They make me enjoy the ride, and sympathize with their journey.