Make your Hero and Heroine Likeable. Please!

Hey ~ V here.  Happy Wednesday to you!  I was at the beach a couple of weeks ago and I brought a few books with me.  Three.  Given that I was traveling with my parents and my children, I assumed that would be plenty.  If it was just my hubby and me, I’d have brought the Kindle, fully loaded.  Kids at the beach and Kindle just don’t mix in my mind.  But I thought that the three books I had along would be plenty.  I finished the last 20 pages of Another Change to Dream by Lynn Kurland on the first day.  It’s an oldie but a goodie, if you have the chance to pick it up. 

Then I moved on to the next one in the pile, a mystery with knitting/cooking extras tacked to the end, like Susannah talked about a bit ago.  Click here to re-read her post.  I didn’t make it past the 5th page.  The heroine spent those pages talking about how she’d never felt that feminist urge to get a job.  Hmmm.  That’s not really my idea of feminism.   That was a major turn off for me and I just couldn’t force myself to care about this heroine enough to bother reading the rest of the book. 

This put-it-down-immediately phenomenon doesn’t happen to me often.  I’ve got a pretty hearty willingness to suspend my disbelief and I’m the type who reads the ingredients in the cereal box at breakfast just ’cause it’s on the table.  But after dropping the I-hate-women mystery (OK, that might be a bit of a stretch), I moved on to the 3rd book.  It was a romance by a top romance writer whose stuff I’ve been wanting to become more familiar with.

But again, before I hit page 20, I found that I just didn’t like the hero and heroine enough to give them my time.  Apparently, they were already married and now they are separated, but one is looking to divorce the other because of shoddy treatment.   I guess the story was about them getting back together.   I couldn’t read it, too similar to reality for me.  It will go back to the library this week unread.

Of course the writer must tell us about the “before the story” characters so that we can appreciate their growth through the story, but you’ve got to make them likeable people.  I  recently read Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase.  Chase set the hero up as a total jerk, but spent the first chapter telling us about his childhood and why he became a total jerk.  I liked him, felt badly for him and was rooting for him, even as I wondered how on earth she’d write her way out of the mess she put him in with the heroine.  And it was a lovely story. 

Today’s secret: If you want people to read your book, your characters have to be likeable and relatable. 

Today’s question: What have you read lately that was good?

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20 thoughts on “Make your Hero and Heroine Likeable. Please!”

  1. Oh, V, what a sad story, indeed. I hate being disappointed in a book. I know how much hard work goes into writing one and I always hope beyond hope that when I pick one up I will love the characters as much as the writing. That is one of the biggest challenges for me with reading and writing YA. I find lots of YA characters that are not very likable and don’t become likeable until near the end of the book, because lets face it, teenagers are not always likeable. But the hallmark for me is if they are real, if there is real growth in them, and if their character holds up against whatever drama is happening in their life. That I can get behind, relate to, and root for. If you can’t make them likeable, at least make them relateable and sympathetic, or very interesting/unique/funny. Give us a reason to care.

    It helps if they are likeable.

    I recently read, Halo Chronicles, The Guardian, by Cary Corp, and loved it. her characters were all of the above.

  2. I’ve heard a lot of writers say that learning their craft has spoiled them as readers — they now notice flaws they would not previously have recognized. I suspect that, before they became writers, all they knew was that some books delighted them and some didn’t. The only difference know is that they know why.

    The best book I read recently was THE HELP. Talk about strong point of view!

    Now I’m reading THE TEMPLAR LEGACY, one of the free books I picked up at the national conference. It’s more about story telling than characters and, although I am captured enough by the action to want to go forward, I am more of a character-driven-book lover.

    Last year, when I was judging the Ritas, I got a book from a bestselling romance author that I love. And I absolutely despised her heroine! I regretfully gave the book a low score and then, afterward, I doubted myself. I had so enjoyed this author’s previous books that I found it hard to believe that she would put forward a story with an unlikeable protagonist. So I went online and checked to see what other readers said about the book and found that my opinion was the prevailing one — everyone was mystified as to why this author would do such a thing!

    Great post!

    1. Thanks! I loved The Help too. And having a couple of book-busts on vacation prompted me to read Water for Elephants which I liked very much!

  3. I’ve gotten fairly ruthless in my reading habits over the last few years. If the characters or story don’t resonate with me in some way, the book doesn’t get read. I used to tough it out and finish no matter what, but not anymore. There is only so much time in the world and I’m not wasting it reading books I don’t like.

    I just finished Anita Clenney’s Awaken the Highland Warrior. A good old fashioned romance about a treasure hunter who finds a sleeping highland warrior in a crypt in her backyard. Last night I started Jeaniene Frost’s One Grave at a Time – love her Cat and Bones’ books.

    1. Oooh – do you still have that Anita Clenney? I’ll borrow it…sounds good!

      The first book I dumped after a couple of chapters was really just a few years ago. Before that, I had plugged along too, under the mistaken assumption that if it got published it must be good. The first dumpee was a romance, set in the old west where the heroine had a discussion about her virginity or lack there of with the stagecoach driver in the first chapter. It struck me as absurd and I put the book down.

  4. Ooh, lots of good recommendations here! I’ll put them all on my To-Read list (which is pretty long, unfortunately for me.) I’ve got Lord of Scoundrels on my Nook. Can’t remember who suggested it. As far as unlikeable heroines, there’s a long-running series out there with a really annoying heroine. She goes around correcting people’s grammar (usually mentally, but sometimes out loud!), she’s been stringing along the same couple of pretty likeable guys (neither of whom deserve her), apparently without, umm, cementing either relationship for YEARS, and she makes a lot of unattractive, exaggerated facial gestures (“She clamped her lips shut.” “Her eyes bugged out.”). And yet, I just can’t quit her and I continue to read. Sigh. I gotta toughen up and learn to pull the plug.

    1. Yeah – but if it’s the series I think it is…you know the one we’ve talked about…then you might just want to stick it out for the last couple…just to see what happens…

      1. Actually, we must be thinking of different series. Because the one I mean has no end in sight. Sigh.

  5. All I can do is hope my characters are likeable. I try to make them relatable. They usally have flaws that don’t necessarily get fixed by the end, but at least understood. I tend to be a realist and that comes through in my characters.

  6. I just read The Many Sins Of Lord Cameron Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley and I loved it. The way I can tell if I like a book or not is if the characters stay with me long after the book is over. I still remember Kevin and Molly and Phoebe and Dan from the first two Susan Elizabeth Phillips books that I read and they were over ten years ago now.

    1. I’m so with you! I remember the characters more than anything else. Favorites off the top of my head: Miles and Elizabeth (Velvet Angel), Kendrick and Genevive (Lynn Kurland’s book, can’t remember title even though plot is burned into my brain), Colin and Penelope (Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, I think), Johanna and Gabriel (Saving Grace), Whitney and Clayton (Whitney my love) and of course Edward Cullen. I substitute Bella with myself, since she’s not really a fav, but oh how I love that Edward!

      1. And I love Colin and Penelope too! (Esp. Penelope. Easily my favorite Julia Quinn heroine). As for the Bridgerton men, I’d have to go with Anthony or Benedict.

  7. I’m really sorry, but I disagree with the blog. I don’t think making characters likeable is what’s necessary to drawing a reader in. A compelling and interesting character sucks people in. Some of my favorite characters have not been nice at all — Brian from Queer as Folk, Damon from Vampire Diaries, Wolverine, Emma (by Jane Austen), Becky Sharpe. The author has a duty to set the character up in a way that the reader will want to follow their journey, but that doesn’t mean the reader has to necessarily like the character. Ebenezer Scrooge was not a nice man, and there wouldn’t have been a story there at all if he had been. Like PJ said, much of it is about the journey. If you despise a character, the author has done her/his job by creating a person you feel strong emotion toward, even if you don’t finish the book. Reading preferences are subjective, but by encouraging authors to write likeable characters, we take the personality out of those creations, a sad fact that is happening in many historical romances these days. Anyway, this is just my opinion and not meant to be inciting or disrespectful to any other posters.

    1. Hi! I always welcome an opposing opinion and have even been known to be wrong upon occasion. You’ve totally got me on Ebenezer – and The Christmas Carole is one of my favorite stories. I think what prompted me to write the post is that it is rare that I’m not willing to invest more than 20 pages in a story, and I really didn’t like these main characters. I do sometimes forget that there is a whole world of people out there who have likes and interests different from mine, and of course there should be things for them to read. But for me, I want to fall in love with my hero and heroine – that’s the journey I want to take when I read a book – and I’ve got to like them enough to be willing to travel with ’em.

  8. Although not always possible b/c of human frailties, it is wise to create likeable characters in your hero and heroine. But taking time away from writing at the moment, its a treat to read Jane Fonda’s “Prime Time.” Her “about life” book is excellent and worth reading. Since I am in phase III, I can vouch for her explanation of the III Phases of life being true, invaluable, and informative. In her book, Jane is my hero.

  9. I think a character even a villainous character should have some redeemable something particularly if he/she is in the mainline or is an important character. Just one characteristic that is considered a redeemable quality will make the reader stay with the story and want to keep reading in my opinion. Ebenezer was a big zero in the beginning but he went up a little in likeability with each dream. I can’t say that I felt like he was redeemable in the beginning but slowly he evolved and developed more likeable and humane qualities as the story developed. He was a more multidimensional character in that book. I guess that I don’t feel that likeability is about liking the hero/heroine and purely hating the antagonist.

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