Reading a new novel is a lot like going on a first date. You're somewhat open to the possibilities, but haven't made any commitments other than the couple of hours required for dinner and a movie. And as the saying goes, you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression. So also for the start of a novel, especially one written by an author new to you.
This analogy came to me recently as I began reading a new novel that would require a significant commitment (849 pages!) of time.
Within the first five pages (probably within the first two, actually) I not only cared about the main character but also about each of the other secondary characters the author had introduced.
The writer's secret?
From the main character down to the least significant person in the plot, every single one was introduced in pain, either physical, emotional, or both. I found myself going back and re-reading the first chapter, just to confirm that this was so. Amazing.
I then started thinking about other books I've quickly inhabited over the years. In almost every instance that I could recall, the writer introduced their main characters in the midst of some type of heartbreak.
As I look at my own work in progress, I see great value in amplifying this aspect in each of my characters' arcs. Finding a way to put them in crisis creates more dramatic energy and moves the story forward more effectively than any other approach I can think of.
Loving my characters enough to hurt them takes guts. Whether I'm breaking bones, hearts, or both, I think it wise to show no mercy.