Monday, March 8, 2010

Giving your characters character in the first three pages

Remember Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal?
Another strong character. 

We like 'strong characters', right? Here's a look at how Suzanne Collins got my attention in the first few lines in 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins.
  • Katniss wakes up and looks for her sister, who snuck into bed with their mother.
  • A big, ugly yellow cat is curled up on her sister's feet.
  • Cut to Katniss's memories of when her sister found the cat, flea-bitten and wormy and her sister begged Katniss not to drown it.
  • Back to present- now Katniss feeds it entrails when she cleans an animal she's killed. The cat has stopped hissing at Katniss.  
  • "Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love."
I loved that line. I realized I could trust this writer to tell me a story. I love that relaxed feeling and don't get it too often, since compulsive editing has ruined most books for me (only kind of kidding.)

This is a strong character. Yes, Katniss is physically strong, but that's not the point. She tried to drown her sister's cat out of practicality. She didn't think about it, or consider it, or *almost* put the cat in a bucket. She did it and her sister was begging her to stop. And the cat still remembers.

I had that same 'I can relax' feeling when I reread "The Giver" by Lois Lowry.

It was December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No, wrong word. Frightened meant that deep, sickened feeling of something terrible about to happen.

Jonas is extremely careful about naming his feelings. It made me wonder why. That's all it took to hook me.

Have you ever met a character and thought, "Wow. This is going to be good."? What line got you?


  1. Last fall, I attended a revision workshop with Darci Pattison. One of her tips was to see how much of our protagonist was established in the first five pages.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and putting it so clearly, Caroline. I think if we're reading writing books and going to workshops, etc. we hear the same things over and over, but I need the repetition.

  3. I have no excuses; I have to read this book now!

  4. Hmm, Kelly, you've given me something to think about. Which characters have really hooked me with their voice...?

  5. Steph, I think you would love this book because Katniss kicks butt:)

    And Krista- I'd love to know who you come up with and what got you.

  6. It's amazing how just the very right words can develop a character in only a line or two! I've seen that happen, but not too often. When it does, it's magic and I definitely keep reading.

  7. Since my favorite books are those with characters who draw me in, I totally understand why you love these books.

    Straight From Hel

  8. Hi Joanne- thanks for commenting. It is magic to know someone and love them, andthe don't technically exist;)

    And Hel- I remember reading your blog name for the first time months ago and laughing. Thanks for stopping by. I'm totally character driven. I mean, they have to do something, but I'll go a lot farther in a book with a messed up plot than I will if the characterization is off.