Gotta Love Your Character - Jo-Ann Carson

Gotta Love Your Character

The Best Selling Book Series

The Best Selling Book Series

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is making the hero and heroine in my stories more likable.  A “no brainer,” right?
I mean, I knew you needed to create people readers want to know more about, but I didn’t really “get” how important it is. To  quote Blake Snyder who’s made millions of dollars selling screenplays:

“…liking the person we go on the journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story.” (pg. xv, Save the Cat, Michael Wiese Prod. California, 2005- an AWESOME book btw)

I’d managed to kick around a few ideas on my own as to how to go about creating likable characters, favoring a “kiss the baby” scene close to the opening line, but then I had my eyes pop last July listening to James Rollins at the  RWA 2012 conference. He gave a  lecture on how make your thriller more thrilling, and covered a lot of excellent craft points in a clear and concise manner, one of which was ways to build sympathy for characters. He detailed seven–yup 7! He admitted some writing craft techniques are cheezy, but advised us to use them, because they work. (The lecture can be heard on the RWA2012 tapes (#17-067))
Briefly, James Rollin’s seven strategies are:

  1. make the character good at what they do
  2. make them funny
  3. have them treat other people well
  4. …especially pets, kids, and the elderly
  5. give them “undeserved misfortune”
  6. have other people like them
  7. give them a physical, mental or education handicap – make them an underdog

If I look at some of my favorite heroes I can see the strategies work. For example:

  1. Harry Potter (#5,6,3,7)
  2. Jack Reacher (#1,3,4,6)
  3. Stephanie Plum (#2,3,4,6)

His list works well.
So is my growing knowledge of craft transferring onto the page? I hope so, but only time will tell. Transference in learning always lags behind understanding. A frustrating reality.
Who’s your favorite character and how was he/she made likable? Do you have any strategies to add to the Rollin’s list?

0 Replies to “Gotta Love Your Character”

  1. I have a lot of characters I really like so it’s as hard as picking your favorite kid. I went over his list to rate my main character. One is a yes, two, not sure. There are elements of subtle humor in the books, but not the fall down laughing kind. Three yes. Four. Yes. Five. Yes. Six: Yes. Seven – not really. So five yes’s, one maybe, and only one no should make my main character, Catherine Jewell, likable, shouldn’t it?

    1. The last book I read, the heroine was a brilliant lawyer. Check. She was funny and a terrible cook. She treated her family in a stellar fashion. Check. Had endured miscarriages and a failed adoption. Check. Lots of angst but she kept moving forward in her life. So, yes she was likable and I was rooting for her to be happy.

      1. Hi Jodie
        I agree the Rollin’s seven really work. I can still remember how much I fell in love with Harry Potter when I read he lived under the stairs and was not well treated by his aunt and uncle. R.K. Rowling had me right then.
        Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
        Best Wishes

    2. Gloria
      Sounds like you got the likability thing down. I struggled with it because I was trying to get the plot going, but now I know that the plot doesn’t matter if the characters haven’t wooed the audience. lol.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’d love to have five yeses under my belt.
      Best Wishes

  2. What a great post, Jo-Ann. I’m pretty certain the “Save the cat” piece I added into VERMONT ESCAPE is one reason it sold. (That and all the work using Margie Lawson’s strategies.LOL ) My hero left a few people cold. He was pretty standoffish at the beginning of the book. I thought with good reason. After reading through the first 25 pages for one of our NTRWA meetings, Cindy Dees, told me I should have him save the cat. And I did, but it was a dog. LOL
    Let’s look at the list. My heroine is good at what she did and becomes good at what she does. Probably not much on the funny side. She (and he, too.) treat others well, yes, yes, and yes. A big yes here. Lots of deaths in her family. She has reallly good friends and he does too. Gotta say no to # 7, unless you count she has trouble with the store accounts. But she has somone else to do them.
    Okay, I need to run and check out my 5th book, Truth Be Told, the next one to seriously submit. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Marsha
      Thanks for your stopping by commenting and saying nice things.
      Yes, I’m in love with Blake Snyder’s SAve the Cat book. His advice is powerful and it all makes common sense. I gave it to myself as a treat and I’m half way through.
      I’m a dog person, so I totally get your save the dog choice. Can’t wait to see your work in print. Not long now:)
      Best Wishes

      1. Well, ebook format first, and then if I’m lucky print. But I find I read more and more on my Nook. Just so easy on the eyes. Fingers crossed VE makes it into print. 🙂

  3. I think one thing that’s key is for the reader to really understand the protagonist. As authors, we often know our characters so well that we don’t necessarily get all the important info down on the page, particularly when it comes to motivation. A character can do something that seems unsympathetic, but they may have a very good reason for doing it (e.g., the classic is stealing milk to feed a starving baby). The more deeply the author draws the reader into the character’s thoughts and emotions, the more likely the reader is going to identify, care, and want to read that character’s journey. Incidentally, that’s one reason I often enjoy books written in first person.

    1. Susan
      I love your stealing the milk to feed the starving baby example of a way to pull the reader into the motivation of the character, making us like them and identify with them even though their action involves breaking the law. Deep POV. You’ve expanded the whole conversation around liking a character from adding a few “sweet” attributes to their portrait, to delving deeper into who they are (and of course I’m not surprised, because you’re such a good writer).
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. You’ve given me lots to think about.
      Best Wishes

  4. Great blog post, Jo-Ann! And a very timely reminder for crafting a better story. Time to dig into my “word in process” again. I especially loved how you analysed three fictional characters to access their likeability, and how you said: “transference in learning always lags behind understanding” — so very, very true!!

    1. Hi Jacqui
      Thanks for your kind words.
      My blog meanders about, but sometimes I have to write about craft, because it gives me the feeling (as exaggerated, and down right wrong as it might be) that I’m retaining it. lol. I’m soo excited about your double final in the GH. I don’t know how you sleep at night.
      Again, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Oh Jo-Ann, what a genius you are to boil down a whole lecture into seven points. One of my very favorite characters is Lady Henrietta in Eloisa Jame’s ‘Fool for Love’.. I reread the book many times to try to understand how it works… Henrietta adores children and is very good with them them. She’s funny. She’s kind and likable. But she has a weak hip and been told that she will die in childbirth. So all seven points are covered..Of course that doesn’t address the fact that she falls for an elegant gentleman who wears lace, finds her unfashionable and dislikes children. But I do think that Eloisa James is a genius. Thanks for helping me grasp another important aspect of craft. Now to apply it.

    1. Helena
      Thank you for your kind words and stopping by and sharing Eloisa Jame’s character. Clearly masterfully written. No wonder you like her writing so much!
      It’s fun looking deep into character.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.