My husband and I were in a club last night for a friend's birthday party. About mid-way through the festivities, two young girls strutted through the door. Most male, and some female heads turned their way. They sported black, ruffled, micro-minis that barely covered their butts, thigh high boots, and shirts that looked like a lace bra I got for Christmas one year. After sauntering to the side of the dance floor, one girl bent over and started shaking her butt like a stripper. I don't know what message they were trying to send but if they had 'easy lay' tattooed on their foreheads, it would have been more subtle. To be fair, I don't know if they were easy or not, they could have been very nice girls, but that wasn't the message they were putting out.
So, what does this have to do with writing? I can't tell you how many books I've read where the was no clear message. I think I was supposed to like the heroine, but I wasn't sure. She was mean, conceited, sadistic and never changed. I couldn't figure out why the hero loved her.
I have also written some confusing characters. The heroine was someone you were supposed to care about, feel sympathy for. She came across as weak and pathetic.
How do you make sure the message is clear in your writing? Do you have a formula or do you just put the words down and hope for the best?


Oh wow, Shawn, I absolutely love your gorgeous blog page! Great post, by the way!

One of the things I teach in my online writing classes is to make sure that your character comes across sympathetic. Having a deeper troubled past (and like you said, shows growth to overcome), and flaws, help readers relate.

A main character who does dumb things, when any
person who's sane wouldn't, loses reader's sympathy. (Sounds like the girl in the bar.) We had one come to the library wearing a black thong and white skirt. The skirt was long, but she might as well have worn no skirt at all.

I'm a pantser, so my characters evolve as I'm writing the story. The way the character reacts in response to situations shows character. If they act badly, in an unsympathetic way, we lose reader sympathy. If the character has the proper motivation, he/she can react to a situation that might not seem heroic, but because of their past and their current motivation still keep the reader's sympathy.

Another thing is that characters should have important goals in the stories, and again, these can make the reader sympathize with the characters!

I agree--if the goal is there, and it's legitimate, any character becomes likable, or at least redeemable.

Couldn't agree more about character goals. I want to feel like I'm taking the journey too and rooting for them all the way.

Leah Guinn said... 21/3/10 12:19  

Great post! It reminds me of my main character in my WIP. I thought she was fine. Other readers thought she came across as whiny and immature--kind of funny, since she was based on my 20-something self!

Great blog, Shawn!


Anonymous said... 21/3/10 13:44  

Pantser and "fast draft" believer. My main character hits bottom at the beginning and grows from there. I had a test read of the first chapter and was delightfully happy they felt her pain and related to the emotional situation in real life. My WIP is Urban Fantasy romance.
I has taken me years to get to this point in my writing. Many bitter bitches have biten the dust.

I love a strong heroine, but some authors take it too far. While I do want her to be strong, I'd rahter she not come off as an alpha-male with breasts.

ditto what Terry and Liz said - if there are goals to be achieved, I'll play along. I think knowing what your 'core story' (you knew that was going to come back up, didn't you?) is helps to create heros, heroines, goals and whatnot from the get-go. That said, I have a heroine right now who's making life difficult because she doesn't want to flippin' grow, dang it!

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A dreamer. That's how I would describe myself. Come to think of it, that's how most people would describe me. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with paranormal romances. I live in Atlanta, Ga, with the man of my dreams. We met in Korea while serving in the armed forces and after a two month courtship, got married. We've been together 21 years.

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