Novel elements: characters you want to spend a whole book with

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.

Michael Hauge has some good suggestions to make about how to get the reader interested in a character.

  1. Make your character sympathetic
  2. Make your character funny
  3. Make your character likeable
  4. Put your character in jeopardy
  5. 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?



4 thoughts on “Novel elements: characters you want to spend a whole book with

  1. Mun Haerin says:

    When I dislike characters, I think it’s more because of the author’s attitude towards them than anything else.

    For example, sometimes authors give a cruel, evil character a tragic backstory. Some authors just do this to explain why he became what he is, and that’s fine. But some (horrible) authors make it clear that now we know the character was bullied/tortured/destitute in his youth, we’re supposed to forgive him and like him.

    I can’t stand it when that happens. I think female authors do this more frequently than the male ones. I’ve also noticed that when women do this to a character, the character is usually goodlooking and male. Not only do I find this morally offensive, I also think it’s lazy writing. What a cheap way to bring out an emotional response in your readers!

  2. Evelyn Hill says:

    That’s a good point, Haerin. It’s common for romance novels to have a rotten hero with a sad past. Perhaps because some women love the idea of reforming bad boys?
    Laura Kinsale pulled it off with a nasty heroine in ‘For My Lady’s Heart’ — at least, when I finally understood why the heroine was being so unpleasant, I was able to accept her actions and move on. But by that point in the book, she was ready to sacrifice everything she had to save the hero. Usually, the nasty character just says “Oops! My bad.” which is much less convincing.

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