The Likability Factor

I wrote the first chapter of my work in progress and then workshopped it with my critique partner. I wanted feedback on chapter one before I moved on to writing chapter two. I did this for a couple reasons, but the main reason is to make sure that the character is coming across in a way that draws the interest of the reader, in this case, my critique partner.

So, I emailed him my chapter to review, and then we schedule a meeting to discuss my pages (this is a back and forth thing – we send each other pages and meet to discuss). I had some misgivings. This is a new book idea and it’s always nerve-wracking to put new pages out there for the first time, even with a trusted friend and critique partner. Plus, this new character I had created was a bit…negative. My intention was to show the character arc over the course of the novel to show the character moving from negative to positive. At critique time I confirmed that my character was too negative. Too whiney. Too much. So, it’s revision time.

Does it really matter that the character is too negative at the beginning of a novel?

Would you want to read about someone whom you didn’t particularly like? Granted, readers have different tastes but as a rule, we readers don’t want to spend our time reading about people we dislike or find annoying.

The issue was the character was too whiney, too judgmental of other characters, and didn’t have any redeeming qualities to make the reader like her.  In screenwriting terms, the character didn’t have a Save the Cat moment. Granted characters should be complex. They should have good qualities and fatal flaws. But if they are too extreme either direction, they become unlikable.

I revised the structure of who my character is and am completely re-writing the 1st chapter, and it is better. The re-think on the character not only made the character better and gave her some redeeming qualities which was essential to make her likable, but it also forced me to revise my story structure to compensate for the different character concept. Yeah, it’s work, but it’s worth it.

Things to think about when creating your characters:

  • Be careful to make your character have a balance of good qualities and bad.
  • Don’t make them too mean or too negative.
  • Be careful that your character is not too perfect, or too goody two shoes. Just like in real life, too good, too perfect can be annoying.
  • Some snark in your character can be okay but extreme rudeness makes the character unlikable.
  • Give your character some redeeming qualities.
  • Make sure your character is not a doormat. They need to have some sort of a moral compass so they are not easily manipulated by other characters. Give them some backbone as it were.

It might be helpful if you consider character archetypes as a basis for each character you are creating. This may help you consider their fatal flaws, as well as their redeeming qualities. You do need to make sure that your characters are unique and infuse originality into their makeup even if you are basing them on an archetype, so be careful that you don’t create stereotypical characters.

A most important concept in character development is that your character must have the goal that will drive them all the way through the novel. Any wishey-washy goals should be edited. Your character must want something and this something is what ensures that your character will reach the end. It is their driving factor. The goal is why they are in your novel to begin with.

You might also consider giving your character a secret, especially something that they don’t want anyone else to know (except the reader). This tendency to hide the secret from other characters will help you create some interesting interactions with other characters and creates an interesting dynamic for the reader to follow.

Your character should also have some form of vulnerability factor. This vulnerability will draw the reader in and create an emotional bond on some level. Usually, this factor, or emotional wound, will be triggered by something and cause a reaction. If you create this well on the page, your readers will love your character. Again, this creates an interesting dynamic for the reader to follow.

Fill your novel world with characters that feel like real people with all their problems, faults, and joys. Your book will be better for it.

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