Recently I read two novels, one with engaging characters and an iffy romance plot and the other with a great premise but bland characters. Guess which one I enjoyed more? Yes, the engaging characters with an iffy plot.
I realized that the author of the 2nd book got so excited about their great idea that they either 1) didn’t spend enough time on characterization 2) made use of too much stereotypical romance heroine characterization (the timid, heartbroken woman who needs direction because she keeps falling in love with losers) and 3) authors stick to the type of characterization that’s easy for them to write because they’ve done it so many times, but becomes boring for their readers. That makes for bland characters and if you have loyal readers, uninteresting for them.
One of the things I like to do before I work on who the main character is, is ask why would they specifically fit into the concept of the story? And then because I like to mess around with characters, I also ask what type of character wouldn’t? Sometimes because of that I’ll write them in the story and you’d be surprised at what amazing things happen. In romance there are just so many tropes, so to go for stereotypical characters with in a much used trope can do serious harm to your story even if you have a great premise.
So here are a couple of questions to ask of your main character:
• Who is this person? What is their strength & weaknesses? What past mistakes did he/she make? Do they have any regrets? Are they hiding something? What is their dream vs. the reality they are in?
• How did the character get here? Your character’s history influences how they react to the twists and the turns in your story.
• What does the character want? What motivates them determines the events in your story and serves as a way to drive the story forward. This becomes your plot.
• What does my character need? This is the deeper psychological reason the character wants what he/she wants. So you’re going to have to dig deeper on this one. This is where the 2nd novel lost me because I didn’t believe that the main character had a deep psychological reason for doing what they were doing. The 1st novel had emotional scars that stretched back to childhood.
Memorable characters aren’t perfect, they are flawed. They need to grow from page one. If you’re going to write an annoying heroine then by the end of the novel she should’ve realized just how annoying she is and what caused her to be so annoying.
Yes, there are authors who deliberately write unlikable characters, almost like an anti-hero, who by the end of the story becomes the guy/girl your root for. But when someone (and we all know perspective is subjective) critiques that your main character is annoying or bland and they’ve read the book from start to finish, then pay attention to what they’re saying. If it’s still in the draft phase, take what they have to say in consideration. If it’s a reviewer and your book’s been published, then see if you can apply some of what’s been said to a new story.
Not every ‘hater’ is ‘hating’ *wink*