Friday, May 03, 2013

Creating Likeable Characters

I started reading a book and can't stand the main character. Lissy Ryder, the main character in the Jen Lancaster book, Here I Go Again, is insufferable. She was the mean girl in high school and she judges everyone around her, even though she is broke, expects her daddy to pay for everything, lost her job, got dumped by her husband, and gained a lot of weight. I suppose the author is setting up Lissy at the bottom of the barrel so she can redeem herself, but I don't think I'll stick around long enough to see her turn into a nice person. She reminds me of the character in the Shopaholic books. I can't read those either. 
Here's an excerpt from page 19:
I stab a piece of shrimp with my fork while my mother recounts the conversation she had with my dad earlier today. I guess all the arguing I thought I dreamed was real. Apparently not only is Daddy opposed to settling my debts, but he also wants me to do more with my day than mope. He thinks I should take a job, any job, like maybe working retail, until I find another PR gig. My mother reassures me: "I insist you hold out for an executive position. The mall! Can you imagine? My li'l girl is not working' behind a tacky makeup counter jus' to pay some pesky charge card..."
I know that characters are supposed to grow and change throughout a book, but I want that character to be someone I would fundamentally like if I ran into her, right from the beginning. She might have a few lessons to learn, but she wouldn't be a total, self-absorbed bitch.
I decided that brunette Reese Witherspoon would
be perfect to play the role of Annie in a movie. 
I'm thinking about character as I consider changes to my manuscript I See London, I See France.  The main character Annie is a stay-at-home mom and she has been engulfed in childhood minutia. She has no idea what she wants in life any more. But how can I make her more likeable from the beginning so people want to spend time with her before she sells the minivan and runs away to Europe with her kids? Sure, later in the book is the allure of the Gyspy man and the older Frenchman, but at the beginning when she doesn't know her own identity, how can I make her more appealing to the reader?
Here's a section from the beginning of the book after Annie's husband Scott walks out on her:

So where did it all go wrong? Sometimes I wished I could point to the big moment. I could say Scott had affairs, or he drank too much or he spent money we didn’t have on get-rich-quick schemes. But none of those things were true. Our marriage was slowly worn away by the daily grind.
Somewhere after the kids were born, we chose separate paths. He chose to spend 12 hours a day at work and I chose to be with the kids constantly.
I considered myself basically happy, just exhausted by motherhood. I didn’t expect to feel like that forever though. Someday the kids would grow up, move away. Scott and I would have time for each other again.
            I stayed home with them from the beginning. Loving mostly every minute. Okay, there were whole sections that I had blocked out because I was too tired to remember them, night feedings and colic and washing cloth diapers. But the parts I did remember seemed to be mostly idyllic.
I'd love to hear from readers and writers about what connects you to a character and what could make that character more sympathetic.

1 comment:

Just Me said...

Foremost, believable. And how did the characters get that way they are and where they are. Both nature and nurture.

We're simply born with certain characteristics and then life happens. But we all process the life differently and develop unique ways of viewing the world.

The more I know about a character, including from the point of view of the other characters, the better.

I'm not sure if I have to like a character. Maybe I do. I do need to understand them.

Although as a reader, I admit, in actuality I probably have no idea what draws me in.

Wish I could help.


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