Do you have to like your lead character?

I didn’t, and this was a big problem for me in developing my last novel. I got to know Melissa in the first book, and there was not much about her that was endearing. She was arrogant, rude to people and self-absorbed. She was a secondary character then and so I only got to know her through the eyes of other people, but it was clear that they were not impressed and so I wasn’t either.

Then she did something really stupid and life-threatening; not just to herself but to someone else as well. She ended up looking a bit pathetic really, and once the crisis was over, she was easy to dismiss and to focus instead on the more pleasant people in the story. Nobody felt sorry for her in relation to the humiliation she experienced.

She scored a passing reference in the second story, but was largely a withdrawn character, with her actions in book one still hanging heavily over her. It was probably a conscious decision of hers to remain distant, but her presence was not generally welcomed either.  Surprisingly, she did show concern for one of the characters who fell seriously ill, but still this was a passing reference in the story.

Not sure why, but I decided that the third book in the series needed to be about Melissa. There was a problem though.  From what I knew of her, she was obnoxious.  I meandered around in circles for a while, trying to break into the story, but I didn’t feel comfortable with her. I had to sit down and get to know her back story.

  • What sort of childhood did she have?
  • What was her current family situation?
  • What was she passionate about? (photography) 
  • What was she afraid of?
  • What innate beliefs did she have about herself?
  • How did she behave when she was by herself?

It was only as I got to know her as a person, and the drivers that were dictating the way her life had unraveled that I was able to develop the plot.  Mostly, romance novels are written in the third person, and changing point of view is frowned upon. Currently, the first chapter also shows the point of view of the antagonist as he also gets to know a woman from whom he has learned (in previous books) to maintain a respectful distance. Both he and I were skirting around her.  Melissa developed her voice by the second chapter though, and from then on the book was firmly lodged in the third person.

 

The novel is still in the review stage, and so I will probably address the point of view issues in the first chapter – not because I want to but because it can send publishers into a frenzy. The challenge is how to do so without losing the essence of that chapter.

 

I’m curious. How do other writers get to know their characters?  Do you always like them? What do you do when you don’t?

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