Bestselling authors know and apply a little-considered trick of characterization. This “secret” allows them to create whatever mental picture they want in the minds of readers. Not only that, but this technique gives these authors complete control of how readers view and feel about each and every one of their characters.
Before I realized this “secret”, I floundered around in my writing, desperately hoping readers would like or hate certain characters. I felt powerless to change their minds.
I call this technique, The Rule of Firsts. This Rule states that the first gesture and word from your characters molds them in the minds of readers.
That means it is imperative that the first gesture, action or dialogue reveal the character as you (the author) desire.
If you want readers to like or sympathize with a character, show the character doing or saying something likable.
If you want readers to hate a character, show the character doing or saying something “hate-worthy”.
The first gesture and word frames the character in the mind of readers. It’s not that characters can’t change or need to be one-sided or perfect. Far from it. The Rule of Firsts simply focuses the attention, provides a literary baseline from which readers can experience the change with the character over the course of the story.
As has been said of the 10 Commandments, authors don’t break the Rule of Firsts, they break themselves (or the story) against it!
There are, of course, exceptions. However, it’s often best to master the principle before purposefully bypassing it.
How have you applied the Rule of Firsts to your writing in progress? I’d love to know.
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