Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Do Your Readers Like Your Characters? This Might Be The Problem!

Literature, in all formats, falls under the category of "The Humanities." In simple terms, the humanities are the studies about human culture and what it is to be a human. I bring this up today because this really is at the heart of the romance and women's fiction genres. These are stories that are not simply about the human race, but more specifically, about the relationships and the interactions of these humans. I should note that I am including vampires, zombies and were-things in here as well for this post.

Understanding this, when we examine the characters we put into our books, we have to have characters the readers can connect with. One book that I like turning to for inspiration, A POCKET MUSE, by Monica Wood, notes that "readers want to like the main character." We simply don't want to be working against this person in the story. We want to be on his or her side throughout the whole journey.

But, what we often see in stories are characters, that, in an effort to give them a conflict, to give them a personalities and so forth, the writer has created a person who I would seriously doubt anyone would want to hang out with. We see this a lot with the heroes.

Let's take that classic business/CEO character as an example. What we often see are these guys that seem to have absolutely nothing but cold water running through their veins. They are so focused on their business, their company and their image that they are cold and heartless. Now, here is the issue. The hero can be tough, but there needs to be a soft side that we can see - Michael Douglas from Wall Street - No. Richard Gere from Pretty Woman - Yes! This guy needs to be someone the readers will want to cheer for. And, if this is a romance, we want to, as readers, do everything in our power to make sure the heroine ends up with this guy. We don't want to hope she finds someone else.

The same goes for the ladies. Too often, in an effort to create the "damsel in distress" heroine, I see far too many writers making these women wimps. If not this, they end up making them so strong that they come across as being a really "you know what." Again, these are characters we really don't want to cheer for.

Much of the character development can also be controlled by the back stories you create and the decisions you have the characters make. If you have your characters doing things that really are "unethical" to the general public, it will become harder and harder for the reader to "relate" to the character. If you have them doing things that are just plain stupid, we feel the same way. Let me give you two examples here.

The first deals with one of the reasons I reject a story - adultery. The classic story I see has the husband potentially cheating on the heroine. Maybe the marriage is falling apart. There is nothing wrong so far. But now the heroine goes out with her friends, finds a guy that now shows her all of the emotions and passion she is missing in her marriage - and now she cheats. Here is the issue! If the writer set up the scenario that cheating is bad and that the husband should be doing what he can to save the marriage, how can we justify the heroine going out to do the same thing? And yes, if you submit a story to Greyhaus with adultery on the part of the hero or heroine, you will get a no!

The second issue comes from mostly the romantic suspense stories. Here we have the heroine, determined to find out what happened with "the crime", whatever it might be. Now she starts ignoring what the cops are telling her and makes "stupid decisions." In this case, the writers is so eager to get the character into a situation where the hero has to save her, that we now have the character doing something just plain stupid. You can't justify this with, "but she really wants to know." Sure, she wants to know, but this doesn't make doing those stupid things right.

The characters are integral parts to your story. We have to like them. We have to want to see them together. This cannot all be about the plot only.

Play around with that over the break.

Off to get the Turkey prepped!

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