From page one in your book, you have to hook the reader. Unfortunately, for many writers they only do this with action but miss out on making us get hooked on the characters. This means that we have to feel sorry for them and want to cheer them on. This means that they have to come across as someone we want to "hang with". Even the villains have to be someone that we want to cheer for to either come to the good side, or go down screaming.
So, how do we do this?
- THE RAKES NEED TO STILL BE A MAMA'S BOY - This doesn't deal with just the historicals, but if the guy is meant to be tough and to be softened by the heroine, then we have to see something of that good side early on. No, he doesn't have to be a wimp, but he can't just be cold and harsh. The reader has to see VERY early on that there is a reason for that cold exterior. For example, in Bronwyn Scott's NOTORIOUS RAKE, INNOCENT LADY, the Paine Ramsden is first scene in a small gambling house in a pretty seedy part of town. Now this scene could potentially be played up with him being a complete loser, but Scott does a fantastic job showing how A) he brings a little class to the place; and B) this is where he goes to escape from the rest of the Ton, knowing they would never go there. Even when he meets the heroine for the first time, he shows a sign of compassion before he returns to the tough side.
Get the idea?
- THE HEROINE CANT BE WIMPY OR HAVE CREATED HER OWN PROBLEM - Too often I read stories where the problems all stemmed from the heroine just being stupid. As soon as I see this, I start screaming, you stupid girl, you deserved this. Frankly, this isn't the approach you want the reader taking. You want the reader feeling sorry for the heroine. You want them to fight to find a solution as fast as possible. In Michele Young's THE LADY FLEES HER LORD, we see a heroine running for her life from an abusive marriage. In this case, Young clearly shows that the Lucinda didn't willing chose this life and she certainly didn't bring it on. What makes this story great is that Young has portrayed a character that is real. Lucinda is not your glamour model but someone that is a bit too round in places and certainly doesn't have the perfect hair. We as readers can relate to that (if you can see my hair now you would understand).
- THE BAD GUY HAS TO STILL HAVE A HEART - I love the bad guys. I cheer for the villains, but you know, there has to be a reason for them to be that way. They can't just come out of the blue with an attitude. I love Tim Roth's character in ROB ROY. As far as I am concerned, the poor guy was robbed of an oscar. He was mean, he was ruthless, he had an attitude, but he also had a reason. When we first see him in the real light and he explains how he was treated as a child and how he vowed for that to never happen to him again, you get it. Of course, you still want to see Rob Roy get him finally, but he's still great. Even Darth Vader had a good side.I have to say, this is one of the reasons why I scream when I see a romantic suspense start out with a prologue and the bad guy being just weird. I don't get why he is mean and I certainly don't care enough to see him dead. He's just a jerk.
Here's another great example. THE BREAKFAST CLUB. What is it that makes that movie so great? It is the simple fact that there is someone in that story that everyone of us can relate to. You can't sit there and nmot relate to the actions or the behaviors of at least one of the characters. They are all perfectly three dimensional and they all have a reason for being who they are. That reason is believeable and something any one of us watching the movie may have experienced. If you haven't seen it or have forgotten it, go back and watch it.
Look at your characters. Do I feel anything for the people or is it just the situation we are looking at. Make the characters someone we can relate to.