Character Likability: Tipping the Scales
I’m continuing to focus on characters this week. The Tactical Editor has discussed likable heroes and heroines before, and readers know that for the most part, an author has to give the reader something to like in a hero or heroine despite the issues they face. I always use my novel, Stalking Willow, as an example because it is the novel in which I learned the hardest lesson in this regard. Willow is bitter. I mean, she is bitter down into her core. She’s been left alone with her grievances growing against her family and the boy next door for nearly ten years. Her return to her hometown just makes the bitterness plunge its roots into her even deeper. Have you ever known a bitter person? They aren’t easy to be around.
Willow really only had the one problem, but I still had to work at finding something to counter the affect of her bitterness. Believe me. I didn’t want to trust my critique partners on this one, but no one liked her, and she was quick becoming non-redeemable in their eyes. I had to work hard for a solution, and when I allowed Willow to be herself, I found out that she and I had the same type of sarcastic humor in our array of weapons to help us hide our true feelings and also to defend against those who hurt us. Willow’s humor and the fact that the boy next door, Coach Quentin Daniels, had a playbook on how to read her moods, worked to give Willow’s character balance. Other incidents added to the humor, and my critique partners did come to like her.
What happens though when you have the characters that are struggling with many, many issues, some they might not realize they have. How much is too much? The call is a tough one to make. The key to the dilemma is not to push the reader over the edge. For instance, let’s say Willow had more than her bitterness to contend with. Maybe she had anger control issues. Maybe she is a thief and a liar. Perhaps she’s short on manners and turns her back on anyone she doesn’t like.
Are you beginning to see the secondary character in most every teenage movie?
The scale has been tipped. No one wants that character to triumph. They want her to get her comeuppance.
In the case of Stalking Willow, one more character flaw would have made the heroine unbearable. She couldn’t display enough humor to make anyone care about her because with the other issues, she couldn’t be realistically written with humor.
In my novel, Better than Revenge, the heroine Issie is angry and unforgiving of certain individuals. Those are two character flaws that I had to overcome. Let’s look at the steps that I used to keep her a heroine that people admired:
1. Issie was given a very good reason for her anger and inability to forgive certain individuals.
2. Issie is first seen by the reader as a caring mother, a hard worker, someone who has been downtrodden, but she is also shown as someone who doesn’t let people keep her down. She’s a hard worker.
3. The reader sees that the betrayal of Issie’s past which has led to her anger and her inability to forgive is nothing compared to the conflicts coming her way in the front story. Careful here. I don’t mean I slapped down a hunk of back story. The back story is woven through the book, coming to life and contrasting with the front story. When Issie is betrayed by two people she always thought she could trust, her flaws are still easily believed.
4. Issie learns certain truths, not only about her past, but about the man she loves. In away they seem like betrayal to her, but she has always trusted this man. Warily she begins to learn that her anger and her inability to forgive are keeping her from the blessings her hero has embraced. So, when she does begin to forgive the individual in her past who betrayed her, it is only a matter of time that her heart begins to see things differently toward those she loves in the present.
5. Issie’s full character arc comes at the point of tragedy. It is at that moment that Issie knows the true cost of un-forgiveness and anger. Her character arc is completed and realistic due to what she has faced.
The key to writing likable characters is to learn how to balance the scales. The balancing act includes: not letting them get so unlikable that the reader will never fully allow them to be redeemed in their own mind, showing some of their redeemable qualities first, giving them realistic reasons for their flaws, and providing them with a realistic character arc that allows the reader to rejoice with the character when that character has finally overcome the issues they face.
Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor) is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.
Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelor, and Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.
Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.
Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org