One flaw in many books is that even though the writing is good, the hero or heroine is a person that I would not want to spend five minutes with in real life. It’s rare for me to start a book and not finish it (DNF), but when I do that’s generally the reason.
I’m not expecting a character to be a friend, necessarily. Lindsay Buroker’s assassin Sicarius or Rachel Neumeier’s executioner Ezekiel Korte are not comfortable characters, but when they’re on the page I pay attention. There has to be something about a POV character that I either like or respect.
- Make your character sympathetic
- Make your character funny
- Make your character likeable
- Put your character in jeopardy
- Make your character powerful
You can use one of any of these to get the reader to identify with your character, but it’s more effective if you can use a couple.
This is one of the elements of writing that I need to focus on. I become intrigued by an interesting idea and end up with a story that’s focused on an issue — when it should be about the character’s reactions to the issue. I’ve gotten feedback that my writing is not emotional enough. This is especially a problem if you’re writing romance.
Romance readers are notoriously harder on the heroine than they are on the hero. A hero can be a complete jerk for 90% of the story, then grovel at the end and confess his True Love for the heroine — and he’ll get away with it. But the heroine has to be likable, or readers will complain. She can’t be a Mary Sue, a perfect character without flaws, but her flaws can’t make her unlikeable. Apparently this is because most romance readers are women who use the heroine as a placeholder for themselves.
Personally, if either character is too much of a jerk I start to wonder why I am spending time with them. I just tried reading a contemporary romance novel that had an Alpha hero of the classic mode: rich, arrogant, and controlling. I didn’t make it past the first paragraph before starting to fantasize about the hero meeting with a terrible car accident. I’m only on the third page and I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it past the first chapter, simply because I loathe this guy so much.
What about you? Are there qualities in a character that will make a book a DNF for you?