THAT INSTANT CONNECTION
By Tara Fox Hall
Making a reader care about a character is the most important job of a writer. If a reader cares about a character and sees them as a believable personality, then the reader begins to identify with that character, and lose himself or herself in the story. As writers, that instant connection is essential to establish early on, so you hook the reader and get them to stay for the whole story. They need to want to know what is going to happen. You need to set the hook deep on your first try, and not lose them in the second chapter, or worse, the second paragraph.
How do you do that? Presumably, you are telling a story either because you just plain love that story, or because the plot and/or the characters in it are important to you personally in some way. Your characters need to be as vibrant to your readers as they are to you, and someone your readers can identify with. That doesn’t imply that readers have to be just like your characters, or have the same background. But there does have to be something either in the makeup of the character or the plot of the book to make the reader care about the character.
Yes, I acknowledge that if you write series, it’s a bit easier to hold a reader’s attention. In my story “Partners” from the vampire anthology Midnight Thirsts 2, I wanted to tell the story of how Danial and Theo, two main characters from my upcoming novel Promise Me, met and eventually became friends. Anyone who has read that book would naturally be interested in this story, but what about new readers who hadn’t yet sampled my vampire series? How to make them connect with my characters, so that they not only enjoyed the story, but also wanted more?
My tale begins with the vampire detective Danial on one of his jobs, trying to find a thief at a construction site. Instead he discovers the werecougar Theo, scavenging off garbage. Right after, the real thieves show up in force. While Theo does help Danial capture the real culprits, he then melts away in the night, leaving Danial to face the police.
Hopefully, this intrigues the reader. Why is Theo scavenging for scraps when he’s a powerful being? Why does Theo help Danial, when he could easily run instead? And why does Danial let him help, when he obviously chooses to work alone? Last but not least, why is Danial the vampire solving crimes and not out seducing young women in nightclubs, like so many of his paperback fellows are wont to?
My other story in Midnight Thirsts 2 is a vampire romantic suspense called “Night Music.” The young woman Krys has come to a park she knew in her youth, fresh from the double whammy of her brother’s death from cancer and her new divorce. She hears music that night that brings her to tears with its aching melody, yet her handsome neighbor David denies he created it.
Again, hopefully the reader is wondering who David is (though he’s obviously a vampire, being as the story is in a vampire anthology). Why is he making the music? How will Krys discover his vampiric nature? Will he bite her or will they have sex, or both? After that happens (‘cause one of the two ALWAYS HAPPENS in vampire romance, if not both), what is going to happen as a consequence?
Make readers want to know, and your reader base will grow, guaranteed! J
Metal shop worker Sarelle “Sar” McGarran is the ultimate tomboy and considers herself capable of handling whatever life throws her way. Recently widowed, she takes refuge in quiet country life until the day she stumbles upon an unconscious vampire on her property. Unable to leave the wounded man, she takes him in.
Danial Racklan is a sexy bad boy with a complicated past and questionable motives. Yet before long, he has Sar completely captivated. He introduces her to his secret, supernatural world, in the process reawakening emotions and desires she hasn’t felt since her husband’s tragic death. Soon Sar finds herself drawn into a dark, dangerous reality in which her desire for Danial is second only to her wariness that he may break her heart. Yet Sar must soon face there is much Danial has kept from her, even as she begins to love him. When Danial asks her for an Oath of forever, will Sar give Danial his greatest desire?
When your lover is a vampire, a promise of forever takes on a whole new meaning…
Danial was dying.
He could feel it in his blood, the burning in his flesh. He pulled the truck onto a side road and accelerated. His pursuer couldn’t be far behind. He glanced at his arm, at the small gash that was even now healing. It might be better for him if he opened it up again. He’d cleaned it the best he could, but it wasn’t like he’d had time to do more than pour water on it. It felt as though a razor had cut him and was working its way deeper into his flesh.
Had to be poison. And no run of the mill arsenic or derivative.
His mind worked frantically. What poison had been on the tip of that arrow? Who had that been in the shadows? Who’d known he’d been working on the Donaldson contract that he’d be there tonight, watching? And most importantly, who had dared attack him?
It was possible the attacker hadn’t known his name. But whoever had done this knew the breed of man he hunted and had prepared a special end for him. He’d gotten a glimpse in the shadows of what had hunted him; red eyes and a masculine form moving at supernatural speed. In his world, that still left a long list of possible suspects. For certain, it had been another of his kind.
He came to a crossroads and went west, then to another and headed south. There were no headlights behind him, at least so far. Best to leave the most complicated trail he could.
With some bitterness, he wondered why he was fighting so hard to survive. His life had been pointless for the last half century. Modern books and novels talked about how fun it was being a creature of the night; so romantic and glamorous. What a crock of shit. If he hadn’t had his business, he’d have gone crazy. And as for there being so many women who wanted to be with . . . someone like him . . . for the most part, it was a phase girls in their twenties went through. Looking for a bad boy to titillate and seduce them. Not one had been anything of substance. It never lasted very long. But the ones who wanted in for the long haul were worse. There was always the vow of doing anything for him and the promise of eternal devotion. Until they found out that he couldn’t give them what they wanted. Then it was wheedling and hints of what he would do if he really cared for them. He’d stayed away from any serious commitments lately, say the last thirty years. Why bother, when they were doomed to fail?
Enough of depressing thoughts! God, wasn’t death at the end of the night depressing enough? He smiled at that and checked the rearview mirror. Still no lights. His attacker was either a master tracker or an amateur.
Maybe his life wasn’t everything he’d hoped for when he was young. But he’d be damned if he’d give it up without a fight.
He felt a wave of nausea, and swallowed. If there was going to be a fight, it had better be quick. He could already feel himself getting lightheaded, and it was getting worse by the second. He had to pull in somewhere and get out of the open. The night was more than half over. He’d never make it to the campsite he’d planned on, not how he felt.
Terian paused, full of righteous triumph, a wide smile on his face. This was going perfectly. He’d hit his target, and it would all be over in a matter of hours. If he was lucky and had gotten the arrow deep enough, it might be only one hour. That poison was damn effective. Better yet, fate had done him a favor. The killer had been calling on his cell when he’d been hit, and in his shock and rush to get away, he’d dropped it.
Slowly, red eyes gleaming, Terian held the phone in a taloned hand and crushed it to pieces. No help coming tonight.
He still had to be careful. After all, he’d never done anything like this before. This was no time to get cocky. It wouldn’t be over until he’d either seen a body or a nice mound of ashes bathed in daylight.
Better get a move on. The night was already half over and his prey had a big head start.
Where the hell was he?
Danial looked around and saw only cornfields and wooded areas. Small houses were interspersed here and there, some with barns or paddocks. Livestock were in some of the pens; if only that would work tonight.
The muscles in his arm suddenly contracted. He swerved, barely missing a truck coming the other way. He overcorrected, sending his truck almost into the ditch. But then he saw a turnoff. At least, he hoped it was. His eyesight was going dim, and he knew his time had run out.
He swung the truck into the opening among the trees, evoking a loud clank from the front fender. Nothing like a metal chain to scratch paint, not to mention leave evidence of a trail. The road seemed little more than a path, and he maneuvered as best he could; but his strength was failing fast. He slumped over the wheel, and the car rolled to a stop.
He had to get to safety. At least, in the trees there’d be darkness and shadows, where he might be able to find shelter.
Exhausted, he pushed against the door, momentarily forgetting how to work it. He fell against the passenger side door, disengaging the lock, and opening the door. In slow motion, he fell, the ground rushing up to meet him.
The door, at an angle, remained open for a moment, illuminating his body in a pale glow. Then the door succumbed to gravity and swung slowly shut with a soft click, leaving the vehicle and Danial’s still body in darkness.
Yawning, I saw it was close to eleven p.m. It was Monday night, and I was curled up on my couch, cats sharing my lap. Sipping a glass of wine, I read the latest DeMille thriller. Jessica, my male cat with gender-identity issues, and my black cat Cavity had persuaded me to stay up past my self-appointed bedtime in order to provide some warmth and company. My slightly feral cat, Asher, was also there, hiding beneath the sofa, while two dogs, Ghost and Darkness, slept at my feet.
It had been a long day, but I was used to that. Living alone at thirty on fifty-plus acres of both forest and rich-yet-rocky soil with pets and a job, even a part-time one like mine, meant long hours. And the work could be brutal. Today, coupled with visits to both Flora, my pseudo-grandmother, and my best friend, Kat, I was exhausted. But chain sawing and wood splitting tended to do that to me. Worse, this would be an extra hard week for me. That dentist appointment today had upset my work schedule, meaning I’d need to go in on Wednesday this week to make up the time.
I probably shouldn’t have bought those flowers for Flora, I thought sheepishly. But she loved them, and she was only going to turn ninety-eight once. I could get by with waiting another month to make my first foray back into the dating world. What would it hurt, to wait another month?
Flora, of course, had taken the opportunity to remind me to get on with my life in her usual fashion: “People come in and out of your life. It’s the time you have here with them that matters, not that they may not be around forever.”
To make matters worse, Kat had then reminded me that we were both getting older. I’m worried about you, she’d said, taking my hand. You need to let go, Sar.
I’m okay, I’d replied a trifle coolly. I feel good.
We aren’t getting any younger, she’d replied, her tone a little sad. It slips away so fast.
It matters how you feel. I feel young, and good. I’m okay.
But the truth was I’d lied. I did feel good most of the time. But I wasn’t okay. When I was twenty-something, I’d thought of thirty as “old”. I’d been sure that by the time I was thirty, I’d be married, with two cats, and maybe even a kid or two. At the least, I’d figured on knowing who I’d be with the rest of my life. I’d found out too late that even the best laid plans could fall in on me like a house of cards with one fateful gust.
Maybe that was a good sign, that I knew I was missing something, unhappy living alone. I missed having a man around, both in my life and in my bed. I’d lost someone I loved. But I wasn’t dead, and maybe it was time to stop acting like I was. There was that singles thing coming up in town...
Suddenly, my comfortable and reflective mood was interrupted by distant snapping and crunching sounds. They were faint enough to register with my challenged brain that all wasn’t as it should be. The cats didn’t act as if anything was wrong, but they were unreliable. If the house was burning, they might only move when the heat became unbearable. But the dogs at my feet were motionless, their heads raised. Dogs have ears that don’t fail.
I stepped to the window just in time to see headlights slowly following the road. That was the sound I heard: a car driving on the property edge, along my neighbor’s access road. Whoever was out there at this time of night was most likely not traveling the road to inspect the gravel pit at the end for safety violations.
Some jackasses were out looking to have some fun. My neighbors would have no idea that anyone was there, their home being a good ten minutes by foot through the trees, not to mention roughly a hundred feet higher in elevation. Many a truckload of raw earth and gravel had been dug out of the hillside, providing a perfect depression in the land to conceal any telltale lights from anyone’s view but my own. No one else could see them from the road, and even if they could, no one would care. Most people minded their own business out here, unless you wanted to make trouble and were prepared to deal with the business end of a shotgun.
The decision was now mine: did I want to involve myself with this? Whoever was up there was just going to smoke a little grass or drink a little, or have the kind of fun that involves little plastic square wrappers. But it might well be something worse they were doing, like crack or meth, and that could be dangerous for me to interrupt.
I cursed aloud and decided I’d better take a look. Whoever had decided to take a little side route to adventure had first gotten through the heavy steel chain that blocked the access road. Bolt cutters would have been needed to cut through that thing, and who carries bolt cutters in their car? Someone had planned this, and if they were willing to cut a chain, they might be planning worse than some drinking and partying.
Throwing on some clothes and collecting my waist-length hair in a plastic clip, I gathered a flashlight and my keys. I debated taking a weapon, but I talked myself out of it. Then, on the way to the door, I talked myself back into it, and got my .38 Special revolver. It was loaded. Depending on the size of the car, there could be six people at the most. Six bullets were enough.
I buckled on my gun belt and knife and went out the front door. Walking to the barn, it occurred to me that I might be overreacting. But I wasn’t one for hiding in the house, waiting to see if someone would leave me alone. It wasn’t my way and had never been.
The first fall I’d owned the farm, I’d seen a hunter parked by my barn during deer season. I hadn’t called the police, hoping they would show up before he either left or put a bullet through one of my windows. I’d loaded my shotgun and walked over to his truck. I’d racked the weapon within hearing range, and when his head had whipped around, I’d asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. He’d been properly apologetic and left. More importantly, he’d spread the word, and I didn’t get many trespassing hunters anymore. People who wanted to hunt on my land respected me enough to ask me, and if I thought they hunted with care, I let them. That was that.
Tonight, I hoped I could just ask them to leave nicely and have them agree. Most times, despite my worries, that’s exactly what happened. But I didn’t hear the usual sounds I expected: loud talking, music, the sort of giggling that meant sex was a definite possibility but not a surety. Odd that whoever was in the quarry wasn’t laughing it up.
I got to the barn. Its outside light was on and welcoming. I slid the door open and walked into the darkness inside. I knew the barn in and out, and I wasn’t afraid. There was nothing that was going to hurt me in there. I’d never been afraid of ghosts. I believed in God, and I had faith. And what my faith couldn’t handle, my .38 Special was sure to be able to take care of.
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For info on my recently published books Lash and Promise Me, click here: http://www.amazon.com/Lash-ebook/dp/B007UJ6KGC and here http://www.amazon.com/Promise-Me-ebook/dp/B0086G4GDC