05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Why Do We Love 'Em?

By Robin Weaver

This blog was intended to be about my favorite character. A.k.a. Castiel from the hit series Supernaturala cross between Chris Helmsworth, a Maltese puppy, Sheldon Cooper, and Columbo. Only this addled brain started to ponder--exactly why did I like the quirky angel?
Likeable is subjective.  Determining what makes a heroine likeable is about as easy as figuring out why Kim Kardashian is famous. 
Let’s use Harry Potter as an example.  He’s a ten-year-old boy, a bit moody, wears thick glasses and sports a scar on his forehead.  He gets into fights easily and doesn’t listen to his mentors.  Seriously, if you didn’t know the story, would your first thought be: “Wow.  There’s a character who will make millions for his author?”  However, mention Harry is a boy wizard who is despised by his human guardians and we begin to relate.  Not because we’re into abracadabra, but because frustration is something we’ve all experienced.  Throw in his parents died fighting evil when Harry was just a baby and, then describe the dreaded Dursleys... We’re hooked.
Obviously, one key to a relate-able character is making sure she is an understandable character.  The advertising world frequently resorts to icons with universal appeal--puppies and babies (and angels--).  Beer commercials resort to the age-old appeal of sexuality (a.k.a. tatas).   Unfortunately, giving your heroine a boob job, a newborn twin on each hip, and a basset hound gnawing on her Louboutin heels probably won’t be enough to make contemporary women relate (although the shoes might help).  Again, likeable is subjective.
So how do we fix un-likeable characters? 
First, get feedback.  Lots of feedback.  Expand your critique group to non-writers.  Just because the main character gets a less than stellar rating from one group doesn’t mean she won’t appeal to another demographic.  Ask any author her opinion of Fifty Shades of Grey and you'll probably get very different results from the movie-go'er reviews. Still, If none of the readers find your heroine appealing, fageddaboutit.  If they hate her, don't give up. A character who gets strong reactions, both positive and negative, is not going to be boring.
If however, you get mostly negative, or worse, blasé feedback, ask the reader, “What makes you think my heroine’s a bitch?” (Okay, you’ll probably want to word that a bit better J).  Readers will be able to point out obvious flaws:  the heroine is too perfect (what woman has time to cure cancer, organically kill tomato worms and still have a flawless manicure?);  she’s unfair; the witch comes across as preachy; etc., etc.
What if readers don’t like your heroine, but can’t pinpoint why?  Don’t despair, dig deeper.  Humans can be very forgiving creatures, so often they simply don’t understand your heroine.  Is her motivation clear?  Does she have depth or is she one-dimensional?  Maybe her goals aren’t consistent with her actions.

The best approach may be to simply write characters you like.  Listen to criticism with an objective ear and make changes only if the modifications feel right.  If the character doesn’t work out, you can always start over.  After all, this is fiction. 

She says she didn't do it.
The evidence says otherwise.

Styrofoam Corpse is available at


M Connel said...

Very interesting read! Certainly looking back at my "likable" characters now. Look forward to reading more of your work!

Sarah Raplee said...

Fun and thoughtful post, Robin! You made some great points!

Barb said...

That was interesting. I'm very much a character connection person so any help on the subject of likable or not is very helpful.

Judith Ashley said...

Totally agree that we need to write characters we like not necessarily "like" but we are energized writing them, we see how they enrich our stories. Would Harry Potter be as successful without the Dursleys?