Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Character Likeability


I finished the rough draft of my YA story.  Yay!!  I finished right before I went on vacation and had great intentions of reading it through while I was away.  However, things got busy and I didn’t get as much done there as I’d hoped.

I’m reading it now though and I’ve realized that my heroine isn’t the way I wanted her to be.  In fact, she’s kinda bitchy.  That’s not really how I pictured her.  (Shocking, I know).  It’s made reading the story a little trying.

It got me thinking about what makes a character likeable. I mean, I like a lot of different types of people. I have friends who swear like truck drivers and I have friends who are prim and would never use “that kind of language.”  I have a very good friend who has this incredible ability to ALWAYS see the bright side of everything and everyone. I have no idea how she does it but I’ve watched her go through some awful stuff, I’ve watched people let her down, and yet she remains the most optimistic person I know. And I have another good friend who's so cynical, she makes Eeyore look cheerful.

When it comes to people, I don’t have a certain “thing” that makes me like someone.  As in, “I only am friends with X kind of person.” But they are all good people. I think that's all it takes. Have good intentions.  I'm not looking for perfect people. I'm not perfect. But I don't think I could be friends with someone who didn't have good intentions. And I've definitely met people like that.

I think I feel the same about my characters.  They’re not all the same, but as long as they’re good intentioned deep down, I can forgive pretty much every other personality quirk.

My heroine? Her good is buried pretty deep right now. I think I need it to be a little closer to the surface. The story’s kind of heavy in places.  I think I need to balance that out.


What do you think makes a character likeable? How do you achieve that in your writing?

16 comments:

quantum said...

I think that the ancient alchemists struggled in vain to change base metal into gold. Physicists figured how to do it by bombarding the atomic nucleus with high energy particles but its much cheaper to buy gold bullion on the stock market!

Marnee, I think you are looking for the writer's 'Philosopher's Stone'. If there was a formula or recipe to make characters that everyone would like, every author could become a best seller! I think you have to discover your own unique prescription .... or consult a physicist .... if you can afford it!

Try bombarding your character with attributes to change his/her nucleus, you just might achieve a transmutation. *cheeky grin*

Marnee Bailey said...

Q - I think it is the holy grail, isn't it? LOL! That doesn't mean I can't keep searching!

I do have to assume that if I like them that other people will like them too. That's even a risky assumption, though. :)

Terri Osburn said...

I've learned to ignore most of the "rules" we hear about writing, but I do worry about this part. Making my heroine likable. Oddly enough, I don't worry overly much about the hero. If the hero is cranky and barking orders, he's an alpha and oh so dreamy.

If a woman is cranky and barking orders, she's a pushy bitch. Drives me crazy, but we deal with the reality with which we're dealt, and that means I need to make sure my heroine can be cranky and still likable.

For me, it's all about revealing the right things when in that character's POV. A character can say anything they want. Hurtful. Mean. Bitchy. But if she's thinking something that redeems that word or action to the reader, then it's all good.

From what I've read of your rough draft, I got the impression Blue is angry at the situation, but caring about people. She seemed to have her vulnerable moments. A few tweaks and I think she'll be just fine.

MsHellion said...

It doesn't drive me as crazy that the heroine has to be nicer than the hero--I'm already aware I clearly hold women to a higher standard than men. *LOL* But as Terri says, you can SAY one thing, but her actions toward people and what she thinks is another and is where people will identify with her more.

Considering the grim circumstances that Blue finds herself in your story, of course she's going to be bit bitchy. Who wouldn't be? There's more of us who identify with someone who is angry but pulls up her panties and deals with it--which I assume she does--than someone who glosses it all over and smiles as she does it. Few of us like that person, even after we've had coffee.

Also someone that optimistic tends to be at peace with death--if they die, so what? And in the kind of story you wrote, I think the exact opposite was needed--it wasn't a so what, it was a "how am I going to survive this because death is not an option." I don't know. The grumpy one seems to know what is at stake; the "optimist" is okay with not succeeding so long as she tried...in that case, I think we tend to root for the grumpy one. At least I do.

Marnee Bailey said...

Ter - For me, it's all about revealing the right things when in that character's POV. A character can say anything they want. Hurtful. Mean. Bitchy. But if she's thinking something that redeems that word or action to the reader, then it's all good.

I think this is true. And I think you can even get away with some bad behavior in the another POV, if the character has proven that they're say one thing, mean something else, earlier on in the story.

It's a fine line though. I also worry because most of the readers I'm expecting are female. And, I think I'm like Hells, that I expect more from the female characters. I think society expects more from female behavior than male behavior too, so I don't think I'm alone.

Hells - The grumpy one seems to know what is at stake; the "optimist" is okay with not succeeding so long as she tried...in that case, I think we tend to root for the grumpy one. At least I do.

This is true. I do root for the grouchy one too. Especially if the grouchy is coming from a vulnerable place, which I think comes through with Blue.

I'm thinking. :)

MsHellion said...

I would also make an argument that you're reading the whole thing a bit too soon after you've finished writing it. You haven't even given it a month's break, have you? If I look at something too soon after I write it, I only see flaws and nothing likable about it. *shrugs*

Terri Osburn said...

Just because I feel the need to defend the Pollyannas of the world, being the optimist does not mean you're happy to die as long as you tried. Being the optimist could mean you are determined as hell NOT to die and there's no reason to be negative or grumpy when you're trying to survive. Though I can attest that even Pollys get grumpy. (See this comment for proof.)

And I'm with Hellie. PUT IT DOWN. LOL! You really need to let it sit a little longer. You've got months before the GH entry deadline, if that's what you're aiming for. I say ignore this MS for a while longer.

MsHellion said...

You can tell when a blue moon occurs. Terri and I are in agreement. :)

Though I do maintain that Terri is a lot more relaxed about death than I am. *LOL*

Terri Osburn said...

I don't want to die! I have too much to do. LOL! And I'm sticking out to see my grandbabies. You better believe I'm spoiling those little monsters and then sending them home to mommy!

Maureen said...

Likability... Interesting. I think as an author you can get away with pretty much anything if the reader can understand why a character acts the way they do. Sometimes...even if we don't buy the rational...

Or is that just me?

MsHellion said...

Mo, I think it depends on the character. A secondary character--like Jack Sparrow was--can be obnoxious and we think it's funny and cute. But he's not a hero. If Will had behaved like Jack, he would have been a lot less likable.

The hero and heroine/main characters SHOULD be likable/relatable or you run a risk, IMO. But of course, rules are made to be broken. *shrugs* Still, the reason I don't like to read literary crap most of the time is if I wanted to spend my time with unlikable people, I'd hang out with my coworkers after work...

Marnee Bailey said...

Terri and Hells - I think you guys might be right. (You're right; it MUST be a blue moon because we're ALL in agreement). I should put it down and try something else.

Maybe I'll do that. Start writing the next story. Or mess with the query, even though that's been painful too. LOL!!

Mo - I agree with Hellie (again). I think this is true for me for everyone but the main characters. I feel like the main characters have to be people I'd root for. And I usually only root for the likable folks.

I think this is why I haven't been able to read Gone Girl. I know too much about the story. I don't think I'd like either of them.

Marnee Bailey said...

BTW - Still, the reason I don't like to read literary crap most of the time is if I wanted to spend my time with unlikable people, I'd hang out with my coworkers after work...

FTW!

Terri Osburn said...

I meant to say I'm the same about the main characters. I hate that "But you could see why she was so selfish and annoying." Um...no. I don't care if I can tell why she's annoying, I don't want to read an annoying character.

Maureen said...

Well, I wasn't referring to an actively cruel or real jerk. More the character that falls somewhere in the middle, with quirks or even a bit blank. But there are hints, without being overt, that having faith will reward in the end for a reader.

Maureen said...

will reward in the end for a reader.

I could say I was drunk. No, just sleep deprived.

But consider Thomas the Covenant. Very un- likable character. Took a long time to reach a place in the fantasy series where I could cheer for him.

Sometimes, you have to have faith. I will continue to read with curiosity if the story is good.. To figure out what is going on.