Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Likable Characters

So as I am working at a snail’s pace during this NaNo Writing Month, I had a question percolating in my mind. After finishing writing a novel, I typically feel a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. Just the fact that you’ve completed it is an overwhelming sensation. And then of course, the dreaded next steps are the editing, critiquing and ultimately beta reading. For me, the editing part leaves me exasperated! That being said, I then wait on bated breath for an unknown amount of time for my beta reader to read and then give me their unbiased opinion about my story.  Upon receiving the feedback, I take my notes, ask minor questions, receive possible plot change/suggestions, etc... And then when it’s all said in done, I push my notes to the side and very pointedly ask my beta reader… “Did you like my main character(s)?”

Love to hate!
To be honest, for me, this one question is the single most important question to ask. Why? Because I want to make sure that whatever direction I take the story in, my reader has enough invested into the main character(s) to follow them.

I’m sure as writers and readers, we all can attest to times when we’re writing/reading, and we fall in love or get annoyed with a character. I think sometimes when writers are so close to their stories they forget or ignore the fundamental importance of connecting with a reader. I for one can admit, I’ve stopped reading a book because I realized I didn't really care what happened to the main character. Haven’t you? I think as a writer that’s the worst mistake one could make – other than possibly a horribly bad plot.   If you can’t convince the reader to continue reading your story, then what make you think they’ll possibly buy/read another one of your books? On a side note, Cynthia Leitich Smith wrote a blog post earlier this year on this topic. If you get a chance, take a peak.

So today my question to my readers and writers is...

* And as a reader, what are the qualities that spark interest in a character? What keeps you reading?

* As a writer, what do you do to make your characters more likable?

Mina B.


Bekka said...

I'm doing NaNo, too, for the very first time. I'm struggling with likable characters.

My book is about a very taboo (very, VERY taboo) romance, and I really need my characters to be lovable. If they're not, I'm sure I'll alienate a reader (or every reader?)

When reading, I will definitely abandon a book if I don't care for the characters. If I don't understand them, that's the worst.

For instance, the Too-Stupid-to-Live heroine. That bothers me the most- when female heroines make really, really, really, monumentally stupid decisions- Bella, anyone?

donna galanti said...

Mina, so timely as we were just discussing in my Write a Novel in 9 Mos class last night. I think we can forgive a lot of flaws in a book if we care about the characters - so character is the key element. For me anyhow.

What sparks an interest? The humanity in them, a vulnerability - things we all have. Perhaps their own demons that hold them back from achieving their true heart's desire. And how can we make them more likable? By doing all of the above, and give them flaws. Even the most evil of antagonists can be sympathized. Give them something we can all relate to, we have felt.

Cherie Colyer said...

Great questions. For me, the characters, with all their good qualities and all their flaws, have to come alive. I want to be able to feel like I actually know them and they have all the traits that a person does.

As a writer, I do my best to create well rounded characters and then I share my work with my writing groups or beta readers and listen to what they say. I'm fortunate to have trusted readers who aren't afraid to tell me when they aren't liking someone.

mshatch said...

I need to be in sympathy with them, I need to want what they want, be it revenge upon the wizard who killed my parents or to throw that ring into the fires of Mount Doom. I need to want to follow them as they change and evolve.

that's a good question to ask your betas.

C D Meetens said...

I've read a few books (and also given up on a few books) where I didn't care enough about the MC, or, in some very bad cases, thought the MC was a selfish, stuck-up little...

I think, as a reader, I'm more inclined to root for characters who care about people other than themselves, who try to help themselves (rather than sit back and wait for someone to rescue them), but have human flaws I can relate to. Seeing the characters develop is always quite rewarding with this scenario.

As a writer, I just write characters I would like myself (as a reader), so I guess the qualities I mentioned above probably creep in in some form or another. Giving them sufficient motivation for actions is another point.

Mina Burrows said...

@Bekka - Creating a likable character throughout the entire novel is challenging indeed. LOL on the Bella part too. :0)

@donna galanti - SO true! There is nothing better than raw, flawed characters. There is perfection in imperfection!

@Cherie - Emotions are so important. I have a tendency to overindulge when I write. Oh, well. I suppose it could be worse. You are truly lucky to have all your beta/writer support. I'm so excited for you and Embrace! :)

@MsMatch - Sympathy is so true. An ongoing evolving connection is essential too. I think a character must grow or else it the story gets stale.

@CHMeetens - I agree, although I love the characters that are flawed heros. And I too write books that I believe I would like to read. It's not easy. :)