Jade Lee was scheduled for today but unfortunately was unable to visit. We'll catch up with her later.
My guest, is fiction editor, Beth Hill. Her topic is on creating characters the touch readers. If you get the chance, do stop by Beth's Blog and check out her archives. She has some fabulous articles on craft and they are a great resource for writers.
I was recently talking with a frustrated writer, frustrated because beta readers were finding fault with her lead characters.
Some readers didn't like her male lead; others had trouble with the female. They said the characters were unsympathetic, unkind, or just not nice.
No, her leads aren't rotten; they aren't the bitch and bastard referred to in this article’s title. They are simply characters with character.
And isn't that what we want for our stories, characters who stand out, who grab our attention? Don’t we want characters who make us notice them? Characters with character, characters we’ll remember for their bold actions, characters who stir our emotions? Don’t we want stories peopled with characters who aren't safe and who don’t blend in?
|RUSSELL CASSE--INDEPENDENCE DAY|
They don’t always do the right thing, say the right words, and have the correct motivations. They aren't always politically correct and they may hurt others, both willingly and unknowingly. They may never apologize. They may make excuses. They may lie or cheat or steal. Characters who are bold, who aren't always nice or polite or solicitous, are the characters readers will remember.
So why all the fuss from beta readers?
My guess is that the readers don’t want the writer to submit something they think won’t be popular with either agents or editors.
Yet characters that stand out, who are outrageous or who stumble or who push the readers’ buttons, are exactly the kinds of characters agents and acquiring editors are looking for.
Who wants to read about nice characters, characters who don’t ruffle feathers or who don’t get into trouble or who always say the right thing?
Don’t we want bold characters who are different from us, who speak their minds—even when fearful of consequences—who press ahead despite fear and anxiety and feelings of worthlessness?
Nice characters don’t create tension—they’d work to diffuse it. Nice characters mean bland scenes and ho-hum motivations. Nice characters mean not-so-nice stories.
And lest anyone take offense, I’m not talking about doing away with characters who are good, who stand on the side of justice or integrity or decency. Good characters can be strong and bold and powerful. But nice characters, characters who don’t take a stand and who have no outstanding quirks and who don’t rock the boat are not strong enough to be the leads in a novel.
Characters without flaw are flat and the stories told about them can’t draw the readers’ interest the same way stories about imperfect characters can. What surprise is there when a perfect character defeats his enemy? Doesn't he always defeat his enemy? Was there any doubt that he’d win again?
|HANS SOLO--STAR WARS|
If your lead character is perfect, how will he grow? If he’s perfect, how will his next victory be any different for him than his last? If he’s perfect, how will the reader relate?
The writer I was speaking with said the characters didn't resonate with the beta readers. Yet after hearing some of the comments her readers had made, I told her the characters certainly did resonate. They had those readers upset. The characters had succeeded in touching the readers.
And that’s exactly what you want your characters to do.
Consider Rhett and Scarlett, whose movie was on TV just in time to bring them to mind for this article. Neither Rhett nor Scarlett are perfect, but they are good characters. Great characters. They give us reasons to both loathe them and root for them. They are bold, brash, audacious, and larger than life. They pull us into their lives not by their goodness, but by their manner. Their personalities. Their daring and confidence. Who would work his way through Margaret Mitchell’s tome without the reward of Scarlett’s nerve and Rhett’s disregard for propriety?
So, be bold in ruffling feathers of both other characters and your readers and don’t be afraid of writing characters who stir the puddin’. Certainly don’t shy away from giving characters unlikable qualities. Give them those negative qualities and make us like them anyway. Or make us root for them, even if they have flaws.
No, characters don’t have to be bastards or bitches or cruel or crazy or repulsive. But they could be. And if you write them well, readers will enjoy reading them.
Don’t play it safe with your characters. Create characters that are boldly imperfect. Write strong fiction by creating characters that are far from bland and nice. Your readers will thank you.
I love the written word, the ability we have to create worlds and emotions with well-chosen phrases. It’s my intention to share tips and insights and encouragement with writers at all levels, to help you craft stories that will entertain and satisfy your readers. That will help satisfy you as writer as well. I am both writer and editor. My editing focus is on long fiction, primarily novels. I also mentor beginning writers.