How do I get people to care for my characters in the first chapter?

by Natalie Danyus
(Waukegan, Illinois)

Question: Hi, this is Natalie Danyus again.

I'm going to write a story where an angel is a narrator of the story. He is narrating about the little girl he guards who is bullied, and his own life struggles (how he's trying to graduate from Guardian angel school) he's sixteen years old.

How, in the first chapter do I make my readers care for him? And the girl?

Answer: Making the readers care about the little girl being bullied should be a no brainer, if you paint the scene honestly. I can't think of a more sympathetic character. Make her a good person and provide an event where she loses to the bullies and everyone will be on her side.

As for the angel, you've already given him a noble motive (saving the innocent). If you want to make him sympathetic, show him with problems everyone can relate to.

Okay, maybe none of us know what Guardian Angel School is like, but your YA readers, or anyone who has been 16, know what it is to fear failure. We know what high school is like. We've had tough teachers and mentors. We've had difficult assignments. We've had self-doubts and insecurity. We've had friends look down on us. We've made mistakes. We've felt embarrassed, helpless, and hopeless. All these emotions make a character seem like an underdog.

So you might have the angel share something about himself and his predicament that lets the readers know he's human, just like them. Maybe even another scene illustrating this.

Of course, you don't have to make your characters uniformly good. You could give one of them a selfish streak (also a human trait we can relate to) or some other fault that makes them seem more realistic.

Truth is, even an immoral character can elicit some sympathy from the reader if he is also charming. (Look at the popularity of Stephen Colbert or Black Adder.) For instance, you have the angel talking to the readers directly, taking them into his confidence. Perfect opportunity to charm the pants off them (so to speak).

So there you have four techniques for eliciting sympathy:

- goodness (so they deserve to win, even if they lose)
- underdog status
- emotions the reader can relate to
- charm

Best of luck.

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