Friday, April 8, 2011
Do Your Readers Love Your Characters?
Think about that. More often than not, the low rating concerns the likeability of the main characters. So, what characteristics make a protagonist empathetic? Why does one character resonate with the reader, but another turns her off?
The Protagonist has been treated unjustly. She loses her job because of a jealous co-worker; she was jilted at the altar; she was cut out of her father's will; she was physically abandoned, left alone to fend for herself; she is lied to but doesn't know it before it's too late.
This approach can work if we do not see her as a martyr—she must carry on with a brave face.
"Sharon's husband goes through a mid-life crisis, asks for a divorce, and wants to sell the house they've had for 25 years. Although she agrees—what else can she do?—she is angry and heartbroken. Stiffening her spine and lifting her chin, she seeks out a new life…with anger and resentment still burning in her heart."
The Protagonist displays a valued trait. She may be very loyal, loving, or courageous. This especially works if she makes or has made a bad choice. We forgive her, if we first see her tending a sick loved one, helping a child, or standing up to a bully for a friend.
"Jeanine dusts off her counseling certificate and works with battered wives. Knowing she made a fatal error by marrying Joel, she tries to settle her life by helping others."
The Protagonist is burdened with inner struggles. She may suffer depression, bitterness, jealousy, resentment, or hate. Perhaps she has shut down her emotions because of one of these reasons, but does not recognize her problem.
"Millie works 24/7, exhausting herself and threatening her health. If only her friend James would leave her alone and stop trying to help. She does not need help from anyone. Her life is under control. If only she could sleep…"
The Protagonist wishes for some basic human need. Perhaps she needs someone to love her, a purpose in life, or acceptance. This works well if we first see her as uncaring or selfish.
"Marcia cares for her dying mother for years, laying her own hopes and dreams aside. Now that her mother is gone, Marcia reaches out for acceptance in a world she doesn't understand."
The Protagonist grieves. She has lost a child, a beloved spouse, or her last living relative. A reader won't know why she grieves, but we don't want a bunch of back-story to explain her actions. Instead, we should learn more through the action and plot of the story.
"Jackie lost her baby and husband in one car accident…and she was driving. She meets Hal, and he wants her to live again…but webs of emotions keep her trapped, and even he might not be able to break through."
The Stars at Night..
I had entered the first chapter in a contest, and got shot down. My critique partners did not like Katherine. I liked her…but others read something that made them feel negative toward her. What was wrong with her?
I sent the first chapter to a young woman with a degree in journalism and creative writing. What's wrong with my heroine, my protagonist? What is she doing that turns off readers?
Five year-old Nicky tugs at Katherine's jeans' leg to get his aunt's attention. Katherine pushes his hand away and says, "Don't do that, Nicky. Wait til I'm finished here."
This is one example of several in which I had Kate speaking to sad little Nicky a little harshly.
My friend said, "Instead of pushing his hand away and scolding, have Kate reach for his hand, hold it, rub her thumb over his, saying—'Just a minute, Sweetie. I promise we'll get a room with a television.'
I am happy to report I "fixed" Kate, and even though she is insecure about taking Nicky to raise, she is kind and sweet to him. She shows that she loves the little boy very much.
JULY RELEASE : The Stars at Night..a contemporary romance. Desert Breeze Publishing
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas