My apologies for being absent from so many of my favorite blogs and visiting with everyone. I’ve been neck-deep in reading through the copyedited version of LITTLE GALE GUMBO, and let me just say, to all the copyeditors out there, I raise my glass to you.
As a moviegoer who can’t help but notice when a certain actor’s drink is half-full in one shot and then miraculously filled to the rim in the next, I was determined to take great pains to keep any continuity issues out of my novel. Copyeditors catch those (among other things) and I am in awe of what they do. How they keep it all straight (dates, ages, names, eye color–you name it!) is a mystery to me, but I’m so grateful to them for it.
But before the copyedited manuscript arrived last week, I was making a bit of progress on my WIP when, oh jeez…I found myself stalled again. Remember the same fella who was giving me pause? Well, he’s at it again.
Twenty pages in, I realized he wasn’t just coming off as flawed, he was coming off as, well, not very likeable.
Sounds like a job for “the scene”! You know, the one that reveals the soft, smushy, maybe even lovable underbelly of your character. The one that confirms to your reader that this person deserves their attention and their sympathy (when called upon, of course).
Now I know there are umpteen debates on whether a character has to be likable to be enjoyed. For me, I not only have to like a character to read them, I REALLY have to like them to write them. Otherwise I find myself wondering why we’re spending time together. Sure, they should be flawed, make bad choices, the works. But at their core, they MUST have a good heart to lead my story. Now, don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying EVERY character has to glow from the inside–just the ones your reader is supposed to care and root for.
You can’t assume your reader will simply like your character. Like any person we want to get to know, or feel for, we have to learn about them. We have to see them in action over time (or pages). Case in point, I once had dinner with a guy I was newly dating (and liking) only to have him berate our poor waitress because she’d neglected to serve my sandwich with mayo. (And by berate, I don’t mean “point out gently”, I mean “raise voice and throw up hands”.) So much for Mr. Nice Guy. I knew before the check arrived, I didn’t need to know anything more about this guy except how to get away from him as fast as possible. And we all know our readers won’t even wait for the check.
Now I’m not suggesting you need to have your character pull a busload of puppies from a live volcano, or that a flashy show of concern will miraculously erase twenty pages of schmuckness. Like anything believable, the reveal of character should be as natural and genuine as possible.
Writers, have you found yourself in a similar state of conflict with a character?
Readers, have you recently encountered a character who left you a little cold when you were supposed to be warm and fuzzy?