Monday, September 26, 2011

We Love Them; We Love Them Not

By Julie Daines

Ever read a book with a main character that you don't like no matter how hard you try?

Well, apparently I'm writing one. So, I've been studying up on how to make your main character likeable. A must if you want readers to relate and be drawn into the story. If a reader doesn't like your MC, they won't care about what happens to him/her, and consequently, they have no reason to finish your book.

So, here is a list of traits that make a character likeable as told to me by award winning author, Martine Leavitt:

1.  Physical Attractiveness: Sounds biased I know, but hasn't the Edward craze proved it to be true?

2.  Altruism: Think Charlotte in Charlotte's Web. 

3.  Plans, Purpose, and Dreams: Characters are more likeable if they have justifiable, purposeful goals. Then readers can cheer them on.

4.  Courage and a Heightened Sense of Fair Play: This always makes me think of Harry Potter.

5.  Attitude: I take this to include personality. No one wants to hang out with someone who is boring or constantly negative. Find the balance.

6.  Cleverness: Like in the TV show House. He doesn't have a lot of social skills, but he is brilliant.

7.  They Love and Are Loved: To be loved and to love is something that every person wants, so this makes a character especially likeable...dare I say loveable?

8. Are In Jeopardy: When things the character cares about are at stake: life, love, hopes and dreams... 

Of course, no characters should have ALL of these traits. They must have flaws, but we need to have some kind of reason to like him/her. The trick is to balance your character's flaws and issues with only some of these traits.

Important note on attitude--Ms. Leavitt also gave us this great advice:
When the main character cares too much about his/her self (woe is me), the reader does not have to.
So there you have it. Go back to your creation and take that clay and mold it and bend it into a fully fledged, deep and meaningful character. 


Scott said...

There are very successful books with main characters who are not especially likable,such as A Confederacy Of Dunces and Gone With The Wind. Even Shakespeare did it with Coriolanus. In all those cases (I'll get back to you GWTW when I find something likable about Scarlett), the author gave us something to like about the character, or something to identify with, so we care. In your WIP, the character isn't hopeless. One trait just needs to be toned down a bit.

Julie Daines said...

In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett has attitude. Spirit. Yes, she's despicable, manipulative, selfish, deceitful, and sometimes downright evil. But because she has some traits from the list--attitude, cleverness, physical attractiveness, purpose, and I guess you could say she loves and is loved in her own skewed way--the reader is drawn into the story and her life. How else has it survived all these years as a best seller?

In some ways, that's what makes the writing of Gone with the Wind so great. Margaret Mitchell created a character so complex and real that we love her and hate her at the same time.

Danielle said...

Thanks! This is a great post!
I'm going to dare to use a twilight example and add to the love and are loved section the example of Bella Swan: To most people she's annoying and useless but because Edward likes her, we care.
If anyone needs more, a lot of these ideas are explained in Orson Scott Card's book "Characters and Viewpoints."