What brings us into a story more than a good hook, an intriguing plot, an unusual line of dialogue, a well-described setting?
And not just any character.
Not Mrs. Jones who lives two doors down. Not Amy the architect. Not the little girl with a broken leg and a brother she saved from a runaway cement truck.
Wait, maybe that girl, she's the one. Why?
Because within a space of a few words the reader has fallen in love with her. Well, maybe not love, but there's definitely a growing sense of care for the child.
So how do you make your reader begin to care for your character from the beginning?
A reader doesn't have to fall in love with the character, although that's great too, but if a reader begins to care about your character, then it makes it that much harder to put the story down. Our heart is taken in by the story and we have to stay there until it begins to beat independently again.
When I read a story and discover a character who defies the odds, whose quirky personality adds to her convictions, who faces a larger-than-life foe, or who invests in a relationship in a good way, then I begin to care about the character.
Throw in a flaw that's endearing or a physical trait or mannerism that challenges the character, but who's determined to live life to the fullest despite any quality that may hinder her, then I'm hooked. I am emotionally invested in the character.
Here are some characters that hooked me from the beginning:
Katniss (The Hunger Games Trilogy)
Laia (An Ember in the Ashes)
Alma (The Signature of All Things)
Each one has her own flaws, but she either deals with them or overcomes them by the book's ending. And it's not just the flaws that drew m in from the beginning, it was the character's unique personality and voice and what she was facing from page one.
A sign of emotional investment is not being able to put the book down, but an even bigger sign is that you think of this character, you live in her world, you feel for her, and you weep for or with her. I think about these characters still even though it's been months or years since I last read the books.