Monday, February 15, 2010

Likeable Characters

How to take silly, whining, self-absorbed, and/or weak main characters and make them thrive!

Have you watched 'The Wizard of Oz' recently?
Dorothy is a bit of a brat in the opening. And she develops an opium habit.

I've been reworking my query and realized that I have the same trouble explaining the premise of the story as I do in the actual manuscript. There's not enough action inside the MC in the first section of the book. Things just happen to her and around her for the first forty pages.

My MC is introduced as limp as a piece of spaghetti because her character arc is to learn to stand up for herself. She has to start out as a bit of a push-over so that she can learn to make her own decisions.

Enter protagonist: Mother uses Lara's empath against her, using guilt to force obedience. Lara even helps Mother to 'delve' her sisters so they will follow the rules, too.

I had some reviews on early chapters that said that they didn't connect to the MC because she was spineless. But that's the point, so how do I get around it?

She yearns to be stronger. That's it.

We imperfect human beings tend to have a lot of sympathy for people who want to do what is right, who want to control their destiny, rescue their friends, save the world, etc. BUT can't do it...


Or they can't do it alone, or they can't do it until they care about others more than themselves, or they could do it all along if they'd only believed in themselves, or whatever moral is being expressed.

Still, you want to find out how they succeed, so that you can believe it's possible for you, too.

I've added some blurbs of Lara trying to resist Mother. Here's a section I adjusted recently. You tell me if Lara is likeable or not.

“Please, Mother. Don’t.” I squeezed my eyes shut. I wouldn’t look.
“I have to be sure.”

I opened my eyes and glared at her shoulder. I wouldn’t look any higher.

“Lara,” she chastised. “You will not go near the orchard. Or inside it.” Her eyes narrowed on me, and I leaned away, tilting the rocking chair back as far as I could. I looked up into the skylight, letting the sun scorch my eyes. She pressured me and my breath caught in my throat. I lowered my eyes to her face, letting her look. Her face was blotted out of my vision by the sunspots, but I could feel her probing, finding my fears and crowding them out of my mind with contentment.

She relaxed. My throat opened and I gasped, quietly, though. I didn’t want to make her feel bad; her guilt would infect me, too. Besides, she didn’t like to force me, but we both knew the welfare of the geroth was too important. She dropped her eyes and stood, then laid my veil across my knees. She left as silently as she’d come.

I hope this isn't too far out of context to make sense and please remember this is a middle draft! (could I use the word 'look' more?!) I also see some areas where I need to be more specific about what Lara is experiencing, but I think she is relatable now. That the reader might root for her.
How do you balance your characters?


  1. I've struggled with this exact same issue. I've strengthened my character and my readers say they like the softer one better. Guess I went too far. LOL Wish I could help you, but it is kind of difficult out of context. Maybe just one time she needs to actually succeed and then experience the consequences? I don't I said, it's a struggle for me, too. Good luck!

  2. Thanks Kristie. I have a direction now, so it's a matter of adjusting and seeing if it works. Simple, right? Good luck to you too.

  3. Donald Maass has a great chapter about making heroes more human and protagonists more likable in his book THE FIRE IN FICTION. I'd definitely recommend it.

    And Kelly, just wanted to let you know I gave you an award on my blog. Head on over there to check it out!

  4. Thanks Krista, for the book suggestion and the award. Wowee!

    I've read about my above topic before, it was more about my excitement of diagnosing the problem. I'll def. find that book. I'm feeling particularly un-fired up in my fiction right now. Too much editing!

  5. I'd have to say that the glimmer of strength has to be there to keep me reading. Otherwise, once she does stand up for herself, it would be out of nowhere, right?

  6. I agree with you, Steph. It was a problem of not representing the character accurately. She's not a wus, she's just got a bit of a handicap and a very dominating authority figure. But she does bust out in a big way. Many people make decisions with the intent of not disappointing others, or because they feel guilty, and I'm trying to say that coercion is wrong. And so is giving up who you are.