Greetings RU Crew! Today, we welcome author Lynne Marshall to the RU campus. Lynne’s going to talk about the likeability factor of characters and why it’s so important for a reader to establish an instant connection with them. Lynne is also giving away a print and e-book copy of her book, so be sure to comment!
Take a second to think about who your current favorite TV character is and why you like them. Then give some thought to what makes one character more likable than another in a novel, TV show, or movie. Is it simply because they’re gorgeous? My hunch is – not by a long shot.
On the other hand, when was the last time you asked – who are these characters and why should I care? Ever put down a book because you simply didn’t like the protagonist? I think we all have.
Perfect or Flawed
The characters who reach out to me as a reader or moviegoer are always less than perfect, and are often far less than perfect to the point of being seriously flawed. The question is: how far do we expect our readers to follow along with this flawed character before they’re exhausted and ready to throw our book across the room?
The Fine Line
One thing I’ve discovered is that we readers will put up with a lot if we like the character. The trick is to show the character in a sympathetic light right off. First establish their likability then slip in that flaw.
Think Sugar Beth Carry from Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Ain’t She Sweet. This is a character filled with flaws dating all the way back to high school where much of what she did seems unforgivable. The story begins ten years later when she is down on her luck. After once having it all, she is now out of money and her older cash-cow husband has died leaving her with his retched Bassett Hound. Though Sugar Beth may loathe the dog, and she’s down to her last penny, she doesn’t abandon him. It’s a subtle point, but it made all the difference for me as a reader. She also swallows her pride and goes crawling back to the town that couldn’t wait for her to leave all those years ago. I rooted for Sugar Beth even as more and more of her incredibly flawed past got revealed. Why? Because of that first glimpse into her vulnerability and the part of her that couldn’t get rid of the dog, no matter how much she hated it.
People tend to like people who do positive things or have a talent for something. Is your character a worthwhile character? Do they have a profession that brings respect? Are they an underdog working their way to their secret desire of overcoming something or becoming fill-in-the-blank?
Is the character relatable? (How many billionaires do you know?) If they are a billionaire, what qualities would make them more like the rest of us? For instance, is the hero a powerful tycoon who can’t resist stray dogs or cats? Or take that one step further to a hero who saves tiny rescue pets. Loads of them. No matter how big the character might be, we need to bring them down to size so regular folks like us can relate to them.
One surefire way to create likable characters is to make them empathetic. If we see ourselves in them, we can relate (even if they’re billionaires). Are they in jeopardy? Are they klutzy? Do they have a goofy sense of humor that no one else gets, (this is tricky though, because humor is subjective) or are they in a position of power but use it for the good of others? Do they have a deep desire or longing for something that is just out of their reach? (That’s something we can all relate to.)
Remember the popular kids in high school? A lot of the time they only got to be popular because of their looks, and once you got to know them, they weren’t that interesting, right? Then there were the likeable kids, not always the greatest looking kids, but they were the teens with personality, the teens everyone seemed to enjoy being around. Remember wanting to know those kids more than the popular ones? This works in novels, too. If you show your character being liked by other characters, the reader will want to know and like them, too.
Be sure to establish this likability quality early, then you can slip in all those juicy flaws you’ve been waiting to torture your poor unsuspecting character (and reader) with. In other words, the story can’t all be about angst. We’ve got to give the reader something to like right up front, something to help them tolerate the non-stop conflict until that couple earns their happily ever after, the protagonist wins the biggest fight of their life, or the alien life form overcomes evil for all time.
Example of likeable characters: Everyone on Modern Family. Yes, they’re all messed up, but they each have some wonderful qualities. Even Claire!
Example of so-so caricatures: The entire cast of The New Normal. (My subjective opinion.)
Lynne is giving away one print and one e-book of ONE FOR THE ROAD, her award winning single title contemporary romance (Finalist in the 2012 Colorado Romance Writers’ Award of Excellence contest, 3rd place in Ancient City Romance Authors Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Contest, and 2nd place in the Wisconsin Write Touch Readers’ Award contest – Mainstream with Strong Romantic Elements category) to lucky two commenters who answer the following question:
Who is one of your all time favorite characters from a novel, TV show, or movie, and share one reason why.
Lynne Marshall is a multi-published category romance author for Harlequin, Mills & Boon in the Medical Romance and Special Edition lines. She also writes longer books for The Wild Rose Press Last Rose of Summer line. Her latest book is TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT, a reunion romance featuring over-forty characters. To learn more about Lynne and to read an excerpt from her book check out her website. You can also connect with Lynne on Facebook.
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- Ask an Editor: How do I make an editor like my characters?