Hooking your reader to your character

When I start a novel, I give the author about three chapters for me to like the main character. I’m actually pretty generous—in a bookstore, your average book buyer reads the first page, maybe the second. Usually not more than that.

Depending on how fast they read, the first page or two takes approximately twenty seconds.

That’s it. You need to hook your reader into the story and give them a character they can like within those first few pages.

In Writing for Emotional Impact, Karl Iglesias lists these three “categories of appeal”:

* We care about victims—characters we feel sorry for

* We care about characters with humanistic values

* We like character with desirable qualities

Victims—You don’t have to just think stalker victim here. Don’t we love the underdog? The downtrodden? The kid who gets beat up in the schoolyard? The man without enough money to pay for coffee? The woman beat up by her husband? The teenager who can’t read?

Humanistic values—Show your character doing something nice or being heroic. Helping someone else, being kind to children or animals, rescuing someone.

Desirable qualities—These are personal traits (versus humanistic values) that don’t necessarily influence another person in the opening scene, but which are qualities most people admire and respect. The character is someone the reader would like to be—powerful, glamorous, courageous, passionate, clever, skillful, athletic, persistent, rebellious.

Your first pages are your most vital. Make sure you start with a character who will hook your reader.


  1. Hmmm. I like these ideas, but what about the anti-hero? The guy who is a jerk in the beginning, but who learns and changes by the end.

    Is it simply a matter of showing his best side in the first twenty seconds?

  2. Hi Mark,
    Actually, for fiction, you need to show the character doing at least one thing sympathetic so that the reader likes him, even if he's mostly a jerk at the beginning. There has to be something the reader can like about him or it's hard for the reader to keep reading. Just one thing is all you need. The book I mention above has a great section on small things your hero can do to be sympathetic in the very beginning.


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