Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why It's Important to Create a Likable Character

If I told you I was sitting in English class and was forced to work in a group with a really stupid, obnoxious girl, you might be okay with that. But if I then told you that I threw a book at that girl, you might have a bit of disdain for me.

However, if I approach that situation from another angle you might have another opinion altogether.

So let's say I've been picked on all year by this really obnoxious cheerleader type who spends her time getting attention by acting stupid. She's mocked me, drawn pictures of me and hung them on my locker for everyone to see, stolen my boyfriend and spread untrue rumors. All the while, I stand painfully by, watching in humiliation. But, despite it all, I've never felt sorry for myself. I've pressed forward knowing that someday this girl will get what she deserves.

Then by some act of a cruel God, we're forced to pair up in English class and work on an assignment together. Halfway through this assignment she puts on her stupid act and pretends that she doesn't know a very basic, common word in the English language. Her peers give her attention and coddle her. But I'm frustrated because although not a perfect student, I have a strong work ethic. So I get up from my desk, walk across the room and tell her "No one's that stupid. And if you are, then that's pathetic. Here's a dictionary to help you out." Then I throw the book at her face.

The teacher comes up to me and asks, "What was that all about?"
And I say, "She's a moron!"
The teacher then says, "That may be true." Gives a laugh and walks away.
Obnoxious stupid cheerleader type is moved to another classroom the next day.

Chances are in the second scenario you're rooting for me.

Why?

Simple. I got you to like me first.

And that's what you have to do with your characters. We need to like them. We need to understand their motives. We need to feel their pain, sorrow, joy and excitement.

So the next time you're writing and developing your character, ask yourself, "Is he/she likeable?" "Would Amie approve?"

If your answer is no, then you need to rethink you angle. Develop a trait that draws us to the character instead of pushing us away from them.

But, on the other hand, if you can answer yes to those questions, then you're doing great!

Oh and btw - it's a true story.

9 comments:

Erinn said...

EXCELLENT POST!!! It's so important to like the character, I can forgive just about anything if I like the character first.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Brilliant post! Some of my fav books have done exactly that. But the funny thing is the girl at the beginning of the book wasn't all that nice, but you don't realize that until much later, after she grows as an individual. The author has done a great job making your like her first.

DL Hammons said...

I've seen numerous examples where a character starts out unsympathetic and the author slowly peels the onion and makes them a more likeable character, but in my opinion that is very difficult to pull off. Most of the time the pendulum doesn't swing back quick enough or far enough.

Charissa Weaks said...

So true, Amie! Characters don't have to be perfect...just perfectly flawed. Relateable imperfections draw us to them. Great post!!!

Bethany Mattingly said...

True story? wow, that makes this post even better. Go you! What if the character does something totally unlikable in the first chapter and spends the rest of the time trying to make it right...do you think that eventually the reader will take pity on him? Even if the thing he did was take someone's life?

Ciara said...

Excellent post. I like how you illustrated the concept. Great Job!

Casey said...

I win. I knew the story before all your other followers. xD

Amie Kaufman said...

Haha! I knew it was a true story! It had that ring about it. (And I always ask myself if you would approve.)

This is one of those points that's deceptively simple--it's quick to outline, but applying it can make a huge difference. Thanks!

lbdiamond said...

Nice illustration!

It's true--the reader's gotta like the character first before she can do something, well, no so nice, LOL! ;)