In the first pages of Hunger Games first novel, author Suzanne Collins has her heroine, Katniss, worried about her younger sister. Anyone who cares about another person is inherently good, and is therefore worth caring about in turn. Readers register this kind of subtext with little or no analysis, but the questions remain – why does the protagonist care? What is the threat and what is the worst-case scenario?
Even a selfish character or anti-hero has to care about something, otherwise there would be no dilemma and the reader would struggle to remain interested.
In the first pages of Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones, protagonist Charlie, acting against his parents’ strictures and his own fear, exits into the night, summoned to help his dangerous friend, Jasper. Without knowing anything else, Charlie wins the reader’s sympathy, and the author wins their intrigue. Either way, we’re hooked.