Someone once told me I was very good at torturing my characters. I take this as a compliment. (My characters are currently hiding behind the couch, quivering and wondering what fresh hell I have planned for them.) It’s important to worry about characters. If things come too easily for them, then we stop caring as much. It’s a dark kind of fun, at times, too.
But there’s a time and a place.
I’ve never read Harry Potter. It wasn’t the plot, or the writing that put me off picking it up. It was the room under the stairs. It was too much, too soon. How could I care about the suffering of a character I know nothing about? It felt like instead of presenting me with a rounded character, I was being offered a series of escalating bad events in place that was supposed to endear me.
It didn’t work.
Harry Potter isn’t the only example, by a long way. And maybe other people feel differently. But for me, I’m much more likely to want to follow a character if I see something positive first. Captain Mal Reynolds won my heart through the way he handled a hostage situation in the first episode of Firefly. (The fact he’s played by Nathan Fillion didn’t hurt, though.)
I think this was one of the issues with the opening of Happily Ever After. While I didn’t pile on Lavie’s backstory, there wasn’t much of a chance to see her as a person, either. So I’ve returned to an earlier scene that was cut, giving a moment before the heat of battle and a chance for the reader to get acquainted with the three protagonists before things go to hell. There’s the entire rest of the book for that.
What are your views? Do you suck up protagonists who have lost both parents, been kidnapped by monsters, and had their puppy killed before the story gets going, or do prefer to get to know the character before the author starts beating on your feelings?