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Writing Good Sh*t Lesson #3 – A Reason to Care

Every story needs one. Here's how to start yours off strong.

Last time I talked about “being good now.” It’s important to start strong right off, both from a story standpoint, and an Amazon Kindle preview standpoint. But what does that mean?

You give us a Shiny Thing, a hint of what makes your main character special, or that they could be if they’re not now. You give us a reason to care, and this comes back to what I was yelling about in Tip #1 - You tell us who they are.

An example (which doubles as a shameless plug)~:

Regan, the main character of my first book, Chameleon Moon, is pretty much a blank slate, by design. He has amnesia (something I have experience with, believe it or not) and he’s seeing this whole bizarre, fiery, dystopian world for the first time - along with the readers, a pretty handy little plot device. But he doesn’t start out as a blank slate. Because our ability to care about every dude's character is so limited! Why do we care about this one random stranger, in a world of billions? Even if he is a cool lizard guy? We don’t, that’s why.

So, in the first five percent of the book - because of Tip #2 and Amazon Kindle's preview - I had to take a second and show you who he actually is. (You know, before I wiped all that away along with his memories.) And, most importantly for this book and its central struggle, who he could be again.

Here’s what I mean:

“Hey!” Hans snapped, and Regan shook his head, but kept walking. “Don’t walk away from me. You don’t get to walk away from me.” In an instant he was standing in front of Regan in the alley mouth, as if to prove it.

Regan stopped, head down and arms hanging loosely at his sides. The loose flap of skin hanging around his neck flared out, and his yellow eyes narrowed, vertical pupils enlarging until they were nearly perfectly round. “Get out of my way.”

“Where you going?”

“Home. Away from all this. Away from you. And there’s nothing you can say that will stop me.”

“Yeah? Good luck ever getting out of here without me. I’m your ticket to freedom, fresh air and blue skies, and you know it. Without me… well, you’re a lizard, right? You like it hot.”

Regan’s eyes narrowed further until they became glinting slits. His fingertips spread and curled into hooks, for the first time clearly displaying a hint of claws. A helicopter passed overhead, white column sweeping down across the alley where they stood, like a spotlight across a stage. Regan didn’t move an inch as the blinding light enveloped him, lighting up the edges of his scales and head ridges. In a moment, it moved past him and continued on. But when it was gone, he stood just as steady and calm, without a shiver in his spine.

“Oh,” Hans remarked with the mild raise of one eyebrow, looking surprised and intrigued. “Not so much scared lizard after all. Maybe I actually got myself a dragon.”

“I don’t need you,” Regan said, very quietly. No matter how softly he spoke, Hans would hear him. “We don’t need you. We’ll find our own way. It took us years to get our lives back, and longer to make our own, but we are not afraid anymore. Especially not of you.”

“Funny,” Hans shot back, face hardening into a sharp, calculating stare. “That is not what you were saying a little while ago. That is not what you were saying when you were begging me to save the people you love.”

“We can save ourselves.” His voice grew stronger, and now he was smiling. “When we walk out of here, it’ll be all together, and it won’t be because I killed or betrayed anyone to do it.”

“Dare to dream! Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. You can’t just—”

“I’m not going to let you destroy everything I have for a chance at escape.” He shook his head. “Maybe I don’t want to escape the life I have. Took me ten years to get it.”

“Yeah? Well— well, good luck hanging onto it!” Regan thought he heard a note of desperation under the usual light, flippant sarcasm of Hans’s projected voice. “Because I’ve got the only way out of here! You’ll never make it without me!”

“Worth a shot.” Regan started walking again, and didn’t stop when he reached the mouth of the alley. He passed directly through the flickering, frustrated, ghostly form and kept walking.

See how that works?

Now, Regan’s not just a scared, anonymous guy with no memories, about whom we know nothing. We know he's brave. We know he's not about to let a bullying ghost intimidate him. We know he has a mission to escape Parole, but not at the expense of the life he’s built here… the life he loves. And he does love it, and the people in it. More than that, even—it took him ten years to get here, but he’s not afraid anymore. Regan loves himself.

…So, what do I take away from him?

Everything. (See Tip #1. To write the way I do is to be a sadist.)

And then we spend the whole book wanting to see him get back to himself. Now we know who he is. And now we care.

* * *

Thank you so much! I’ll be back soon with another tip. And, speaking of tips, if this (or anything else I’ve written/done) has made your life easier or more fun, let me direct you to that friendly little button right down here…

RoAnna Sylver
RoAnna Sylver

Writes weird books about marginalized people surviving/rocking out (Chameleon Moon, Stake Sauce), amazing puns, and geeky articles. Lives with chronic pain/genetic weirdness. An actual mutant. Open Your Eyes, Look Up To The Skies And See!

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Writing Good Sh*t Lesson #3 – A Reason to Care
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