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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lovable and Admirable Characters

Back when I was a struggling writer (as opposed to now, when it just comes oh-so-easily *note sarcasm*) trying to make my inroad into the world of publishing, I used to enter a lot of writing contests. Not to win. No, seriously. The first one I entered with the aim of winning, but after the enormous bout of depression that followed, I changed my tune. I entered to get feedback that I knew I could count on as honest and impartial. I get this from my critique partners, too, but sometimes I talk through my plots so much with them that I don't know for sure if they're seeing my writing with fresh enough eyes. So I look for fresher ones.

I'm rambling. This was not at all my point. I've gotten a variety of feedback from contests, but there is one stellar little nugget of wisdom that's stuck with me beyond everything else. The judge who gave me this little bit of enlightenment also told me who she got it from, but I've searched far and wide and I can no longer find it. So this bit of writing advice needs to be attributed to somebody other than me, and if any of you know who's wisdom it is, please tell me so I can give this person a thousand kisses to their feet. Because it's been a wonderful tool for my writing arsenal.

This was the advice: Main characters should be at least two out of the following five to be engaging and lovable:

1. Extremely smart

2. Extremely talented

3.  Extremely funny

4. A victim of extremely difficult circumstances (notice how this, on its own, is not enough)

5. A superhero  (includes "saving the cat")

 This was so life-changing (or at least writing-life-changing) that I've never forgotten it. To be honest, I'm not sure that I can write a character that's extremely anything yet, because I'm not extremely smart, funny, talented, a huge victim, or a superhero. But it gives me something to strive for. And I like that.

What got me thinking about this is the book I'm reading right now, REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly. The MC, Andi, is brilliant, and I just noticed how I was immediately drawn to her. (She;'s also extremely talented AND a victim of her horrible circumstances). Also, I recently watched THE SOCIAL NETWORK and had the same reaction. This one, of course, was based in reality, but I have an enormous amount of respect for writers who can write such beautifully brilliant  dialogue.  Of all the above character traits, I think "smart" is the one I would most love to be able to write. Or maybe funny. But heck, I need two of them, so why not go for both?!

I'm curious what you think of this writing advice. Consider some of your favorite characters. Do they fit the bill? And if you disagree, what do you think it is that most makes you love characters?


  1. I don't think Elizabeth Bennett is extreme, or any of the heroines of the Mary Stewart novels I adored as a teen. Or Dorothy Gale or Alice in Wonderland. In fact, they all were ordinary enough that I could identify with them. But my own books are getting rejected because my heroines aren't extreme enough, so this is very interesting to me.

    It may be that the publishing world has changed so much that none of the classics could be published today. All heroes have to be Harry Potter--singled out to save the world.

  2. haha, my kid made a Halloween costume like your pic, including the lost cat sign!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse