Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WiP Wednesday: Saving Your MC--From Herself

Let's face it, some people were not put upon this earth to be Pollyannas.

Some of us don't always show our more sensitive side, and yes, sometimes we can be a little self-centered. Doesn't mean we're not worth writing a book about. Of course, we no one will care about our story unless we give them a reason to.

My WiP, Strings, has a heroine who is the complete opposite of my last heroine, Evangeline. She's bold, brash, and naive--and those are her good qualities. She's also selfish and short-sighted and can hold a grudge like nobody's business. This being a maturation story, it's necessary to show how the character grows up, so her immaturity is a key element in the beginning.

So how do I make the reader care more about her?

I suppose I could go with a tried and true "Save the cat" type moment (I do like the examples used in this post). Make her likable by showing her best qualities. Which are what, again? ;) Her love for her dead father? Her love for the old horse that she regrets having to sell? Her vulnerability?

The problem is, I'm not sure if just one teary-eyed goodbye to an old gray horse is enough to make up for some of the mean things she does as the story progresses. I mean, I want to make her more sympathetic to the reader, but I don't want to turn her into this:

Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon before? Any advice on how to keep my mc's personality intact while increasing reader sympathy?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Susan R. Mills said...

I've had to make a few characters more likable, but I don't know that I've succeeded so I don't have much advice for you.

Tere Kirkland said...

Ha! Susan, I think we're like mothers who have to love our babies. But it takes other people to tell us the truth!

I'm thinking I need to send this out to readers again to know for sure.

Elana Johnson said...

This is really hard. I've put aside books because I find the MC so unlikeable. But those same books win awards and people love them. So I think you just have to write the character as she is, and trust that there will be audience for her. It's so personal and subjective, you know?

Abby Annis said...

You're awesome! I have absolute faith that you can make Strings as awesome as it needs to be. And I don't think you need to worry too much about Mara coming across as a Pollyanna. :) A strong moment of vulnerability will only make her character stronger. Hang in there. It'll come.

If all else fails, just put on your cape. ;)

Shannon Messenger said...

For me, I start with a simple question: why do *I* like her? And I dig DEEP with my answer (yanno, going beyond, "I created her") What is it about her that makes her redeemable? And a lot of times I find that the main answer is "I get her." I may not always like the things she does, but I *get* why she does them. And a lot of times if you make it clear to the readers why she is the way she is, they'll like her too. That's why I love Goth Girl Rising. Kyra is a VERY difficult character to like. She's a mess. But I know WHY she's a mess, and I can't blame her for being a mess. So even though she does stupid things and drives me crazy, I know why she's doing it and I'm rooting for her to get her act together and clean up her life. And it helps that she's funny. Funny people can get away with murder. ;)

T. Anne said...

This is tough. You're really going to have to rely on your internal editor to get this done right. Use your instinct. It's more powerful than you think!

L.T. Elliot said...

You know who does a great job of this? Libba Bray in her Emma Doyle trilogy. Excellent job of real-girl attitudes.

Tere Kirkland said...

Elana, I've definitely experienced that, too, which is why I'm so (probably overly) worried about making my mc likable. Also, I can't stand the fact that there's only one "e" in likable. ;)

Abby, yes, I think the character's vulnerability is going to be the key to making her more sympathetic. Glad you feel the same. It's just so hard for me to see the bigger picture as far as character development is concerned. And the cape is standing by. ;)

Shannon, I've been dying to read Lyga's books, especially Gothgirl Rising. Thanks for the recommendation. You're right--I need to figure out what I like about my mc and show the reader why she's worth liking, too. Now I just wish I were funnier. ;)

T.Anne, thanks for the faith! I need it.

LT, your example is a perfect one, thanks! I liked the character despite her bratty ways because she was smart and occasionally kind to Anne... which went a long way toward forgiving her for later things. And Bray did a great job of keeping the dialogue fresh despite the time period.

Thanks for everything, y'all!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Tere, I thought of a kind of obscure book when you raised this question--Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar. The MC has been tossed out of her clan for trying to kill her father, for having a temper and an addiction to laudanum. She lives on the streets, skinny and hate-filled. Not very likable, huh? But I kinda loved her from the start. Why? I'm not sure. She's friendless, shunned, in danger and tough, resilient and still maintaining a fierce spark of survival, even at her lowest.

Lisa and Laura said...

I'm not sure I have much advice because I think this is a really tricky thing to do. But I will say, it will pay off if you can pull it off (which I'm sure you will!) I absolutely LOVE when I'm all of the sudden rooting for relatively unlikeable characters. Flaws are good.

Krispy said...

Tough, tough question and someone already beat me to the answer! Like LT said, I was totally going to suggest Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle books. I've only read the first so far, but I was amazed at how real those girls were and how much I cared about what happened to them, even the ones prone to be nasty to the others.

That aside, follow your gut about the character. Don't force her into anything that wouldn't be her, but keep who she is -the best and worse- in mind. Trust her and trust yourself, and keep your fingers crossed just in case. :) Good luck!