Have you ever picked up a book, gotten two chapters in and thought, “Who cares? Not me?”
The author has failed to make the story problem matter. Here are three ways to make your character and your reader care.
Make It Personal
Your reader isn’t going to care if the story problem isn’t a big deal for the character. Forgot his lunch on the kitchen counter? Pfft. That’s not bit enough. It isn’t personal enough.
Forgot his lunch on the kitchen counter which means having to get to “free lunch” at school. Maybe this is heading in the right direciton now. Let’s raise the stakes a little more. And just so you know, that’s “make it matter #2.”
Raise the Stakes
Make the problem matter to your character and your reader in part by raising the stakes.
Getting the free lunch at school means going through the “free lunch line.”
What? A line just for the free lunch kids? How humiliating! And now, it matters. This is something that is going to take place in public. So what’s #3?
Raise the Stakes Some More with Backstory
Thomas who has forgotten his lunch isn’t just poor. He used to be well off but his father was the mayor and sent to prison for embezzlement. And before his father went to prison, he slashed funding for a local food pantry.
Your main character is going to find that free lunch line humiliating. And you also have the opportunity to add a bully. Maybe the kid whose mom operated the food pantry before it closed and she lost her job.
See how you just keep piling it on?
Tormenting our characters is hard to do. We generally like our characters and don’t want to make them suffer. But you need to raise the stakes. Make things matter in a big way. Do this and it is a lot less likely that your reader will find your story ho-hum or dull.