In today’s post, I want to touch on one of the rules of writing: Writing likeable characters. Everyone says fictional characters, while they may be flawed, must be likeable. They must be more good than bad and have good intentions.
One of the many blog posts I read on the subject said characters must have a combination of the following:
Be ordinary with extraordinary qualities
Be a little unhappy
Be good at what they do
I agree with some of the points, but not all. For instance, I think it’s common sense that a character should be interesting, dynamic, and in most cases, charismatic. I even agree with the point on being extraordinary, yet ordinary. But, the other points I feel are where the “rules” can and should be broken. Why must all characters be well-motivated, good at what they do, and at times unhappy? That to me would be like writing the same character in every story.
How many times have you started to read a book because the premise seems interesting only to find yet another story filled with cookie cutter characters? I have read hundreds if not thousands of really great stories, all with the same character. Probably because the writers stuck to the golden rule of creating likeable fictional characters.
I’ve always been a bit of a nonconformist, so I decided to test the waters of character likeability in my debut novel, Rooter, book one in the Double H Romance Series. In the novel all of my characters are HUGELY flawed. And opinionated, brash, crude, and at times hurtful.
In my reviews, many of my readers touch on this. They either can’t stand the hero or the heroine, or both. And yet, the majority of them still love the story. One reviewer even called it “literary crack” because although she hated the hero, and was irritated with the heroine at times, she couldn’t put the book down. She found the story to be gripping and engaging. In the end, she gave the book a four out of five star rating.
And then there were other readers who fell in love with the characters! They loved all of their flaws because it made them seem “real” in a way most other books do not. They said it made the story feel more authentic and engrossing.
As writers what we must always keep in mind is that reading is subjective. What one person loves another may detest. It’s been this way since the beginning of time and will remain so until the end of time.
It’s my opinion that a well-written, engaging story will still be received well even if the majority of the characters aren’t deemed sweet, or nice. However, I do believe that the main characters need to possess a redeeming quality. For instance, Rooter, the hero in my novel, is hugely flawed and makes some really bad decisions that hurt Sophie, the main character. But his heart is always in the right place. He never wants to hurt anyone, and by trying to help everyone, he ends up hurting the heroine. Some readers couldn’t see past his actions to understand his motivation. While other readers understood it completely and fell even more in love with him.
My advice to writers is this: Let the characters speak for themselves. Don’t conform to the “rules.” Write the story that’s in your heart. Write from the most honest part of yourself. Be true to yourself. Be authentic! Write a story you can be proud of. Write it well. Engage your readers. And let the work speak for itself.
Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. We can’t please everyone. And we shouldn’t try.