For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?
I wasn’t going to write about this, but someone told me once they didn’t particularly like my main character, and I tried to make him a little more endearing right up front. If I had a bad Main Character (MC) intro, and my BP (Beta Partner) did too, then some of you may have done it, also. So, yes, I am going to blog about “making your main character likable”, even if it seems like a “Duh” thing to talk about.
On page three, the publisher said that the Main Character is portrayed as spoiled and we’re not led to feel any compassion for him. Now, in the case of the manuscript in question, this was partly done on purpose. We aren’t supposed to completely love this character. It’s part of his growing experience. I understood that once my BP explained it to me after I told her I didn’t particularly like him when I read the first chapter.
Think that over. I UNDERSTOOD THAT ONCE SHE EXPLAINED THAT TO ME.
You are not going to have the chance to “explain” to the agent you are querying, or the publisher you are submitting to, or to your reader… why your main character is the way they are. Even if they are completely despicable, there needs to be something about them that makes you drawn to them to keep them reading on. Either that, or something has to happen in the plot, and QUICK, that grabs their attention and distracts them. (That’s my two-cents… not sure an agent or a publisher would agree on the plot hiding what they would consider character flaws)
So, go back and look at those all-important first few pages, and make sure that your character is lovable to someone other than you.
Not to beat a dead horse (I will be talking about cliches shortly by the way) but GET SOME BETA READERS THAT YOU DON’T KNOW. You might be too close to your story to realize that your MC isn’t likable.
Amendment: Just read a great blog from CB Wentworth about an author thinking up a character and falling in love with him. I think we all fall in love with our characters in one way or another. We just need to make sure our readers feel that love, too. (I’m not saying Noah isn’t likable, by the way! I’ve never met CB’s work.)
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I received feedback from an editor once that my MC wasn’t likeable. Her comment referred to a scene where my main character gave a away a secret of one one her friends and that she didn’t have a strong enough reason for doing this. She was right. The story was better for holding back the secret and the MC had to find a more interesting way to get the information to the reader.
Yes- sometimes it is easy to relay information like that. But in The long run fixing little things like this will grow a better story.
In one of the stories I have shelfed, the main character is selfish, spoiled, pretty much intolerable. But, the reasons for her terrible attitude are addressed from the beginning of the story. I don’t like her, but, at the same time, I feel empathy for her.
If you can manage the empathy you are probably okay… But you need to make sure that the reader has empathy as well. That is harder than the author having empathy for the character that they have created.
I read somewhere, a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) that if you have to explain something to someone then you need to rewrite it, or call the person a fool to their face! 🙂
Ha! Yes. Explaining or “arguing In Favor of” should always be a red flag.
Noah is sitting on a shelf right now, but I find myself missing him (and so do my beta readers). I may have to revisit him sometime soon!
I have a few shelved characters nagging me, too.
Good to remember these words
“Even if they are completely despicable, there needs to be something about them that makes you drawn to them to keep them reading on. Either that, or something has to happen in the plot, and QUICK, that grabs their attention and distracts them.”
You’ve only got a brief moment to capture the reader.
Thanks for sharing your insights
Love these posts, Jennifer.