Creating Likable Characters

Met with my critique group this weekend. Read first part of second chapter of WIP. There are just three of us (our fourth is in Florida for the winter)  but we took six hours to go over each other’s writing. I value their input and use quite a bit of what they give me during revision, but there was one area that surprised me.

It’s happened before. Several times. In different manuscripts. Just a couple of months ago,an editor at Samhain said she didn’t like Deena, the main character in A Paris Notebook. Two writer friends read that ms. and neither of them said she was unlikable, so I left Deena alone and sent her off to a contest.

Now my current character, Eva, is getting the same feedback from one of my critique partners. The other one didn’t chime in agreeing, but she did mention ways to soften Eva. The great thing about critique groups (as opposed to uninterested editors who are kindly taking the time to write a personal rejection) is that you can ask them what it is about the character, why they don’t like her. With Deena, she seemed angry for no reason.

I remember a friend mentioning that about the very first story I ever wrote. Why is she so angry? my friend wanted to know. And I don’t have the answer. I’m not an angry person. Well, at least I don’t thing I am. Who knows? Maybe I’m seething underneath and this is the way it comes out…

Anyway, I gotta watch that with my characters. When a certain comment gets said often enough, you know you need to pay attention to it. Through the years, I’ve gathered a few tips on creating likable characters. I need to start using them.   

Give her something she’s really good at. Give her something to fight for. If she’s an underdog, make the person oppressing her a bully. Give her a flaw but don’t make it unforgivable. For a lot of romance readers, cheating is unforgivable. Not that Eva cheats. I think her problem is more that the person she’s angry at doesn’t do enough to deserve the anger. He’s not a bully. He’s trying to help. She thinks he’s too pushy, so she pushes back with sharp words.

It’s an easy fix, unlike the missing 8000 words…

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  1. Hi Cindy! Sorry I missed this a couple of days ago (sick, yuk!)… but as you know, I like Deena. So I’m not saying anything there.

    As far as Eva goes, maybe if you give her a couple of the qualities, maybe that will help out on *some* of the 8000? 🙂

    I know, I know… ridiculously optimistic, right?


  2. Wow, I think you hit what was missing. There’s an opportunity to show Eva in a more generous and loving light, a little subplot that I can expand. Thanks! Hope you feel better, Martha!!


  3. Interesting post, Cindy. I don’t write novels, as you know, but I do love to read them. I have to say, there are many main characters in novels that I haven’t liked or related to — but that often makes the novel more interesting to me. Alice Hoffman’s novels come to mind. As you know, her protagonists are often strange, ethereal or otherworldly. Or they make stupid mistakes.Their very creepiness makes them interesting to me and keeps me reading. (I am not saying your characters are creepy — I haven’t read the book(s) in question.) Just my two cents.


  4. Excellent point Cindy. As a readers, I don’t have to relate so specifically to a narrator. Like you, I find all kinds of people interesting. Wouldn’t wanna be them, but they fascinate me.


  5. This is fascinating, characters in novels have flaws and feelings like people in real life. Like in life, unraveling the reasons why people are the way they are is part of why we stay interested.


  6. Yeah, it’s complicated. I think it’s harder to write sympathetic characters than to come across as a nice person in real life. You know how sometimes you just click with someone and other times not? I tend to click with everybody who smiles at me, at least until they give me a reason not to. Subtext I take from people who make this comment to me about my characters is that they aren’t clicking enough to even be interested. Of course my critique partners have no choice but to read anyway because we click as real people if not fictionally. It’s kind of like when you have two friends, you love them both, and they hate each other, lol.


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