Friday, February 26, 2021

How Much Do You Like Her?



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What do we do when times are tough and a job is difficult--but we need to celebrate?

We do it together! And that’s exactly what these four fabulous author friends (including our own dearest FOTR Liz Milliron/Mary Sutton) --and here they are:











--are doing with their brand new releases from Level Best Books!

And here THEY are!








And we are so thrilled to hear about them--and, for even more fun, they’ve all agreed to answer one important question. See what YOU think!


How Much Do You Like Her?

By Liz, C.L., Mally and Kerry

Thanks for hosting us at Jungle Reds! This is such a wonderful community and we’re happy to be here – and we’re having a blast celebrating our February books and exploring our theme: Truth and Lies.

While we all write slightly different stories, we all have female protagonists, as well as other female characters. As we brainstormed blog topics, one of us remarked how a reader said of a female character, “I don’t like her very much.”

It got us thinking about this idea of “likeability” and how so much more is expected of women (in fiction and in real life). Women are supposed to be soft and approachable. Editors and agents want “likeable” characters, especially women.

Some readers do as well.

Sometimes, as a writer, you feel a definite push to make your women less hard-edged, less pushy, less anything that might alienate a reader.

But is it true that an unlikeable character can’t succeed – or is that a lie?


Mally Becker:
How likeable must female protagonists be?

Hold on while I spit nails, because this question makes me feel really, truly unlikeable.

Chapter One of my American Revolution mystery, The Turncoat’s Widow opens as Rebecca–Becca–Parcell is wrongly accused of betraying her husband to the British. Mortified and angry, she curses both the Americans and British for all the loss and distrust they have wrought.

“I don’t like her,” one agent said. Two others said the same thing.

After I got over wondering what had made me think I could write, I got angry. No one tells authors that their male protagonists need to be more likeable. (Double standard much?) Can’t a mystery heroine be a badass?

But I had a problem. On the one hand, I couldn’t ignore identical comments from publishing experts. On the other hand, I liked Becca just fine. I didn’t want to change her. So I packed away my manuscript for a while.

When I pulled it out again, I begrudgingly saw what I’d missed earlier. I’d left too much of what motivated Becca in my head and not on the page. I hadn’t explained well enough why she was angry, what she feared, and whom she loved.

That was a breakthrough. I wouldn’t aim to make my protagonist more likeable. What does “likeable” mean, anyway? Instead, I would try to make Becca more fully human with all the cross-currents of logic and emotion, longing and passion that move each of us.

Becca is still a badass. That hasn’t changed. But is she more likeable? That’s for readers to decide. All I know is that The Turncoat’s Widow, which Level Best Books published this month, is a better story now because Becca is a more complex and interesting character.

Liz Milliron: I’m less concerned with likeability than I am with being invested in a character. I don’t have to want to invite someone over for coffee or dinner to read the story. But there has to be a journey I’m interested in. Maybe the character is on a redemption arc. Maybe that arc fails. Maybe it succeeds. Or the character might be a good person who is doing horrible things for good reasons.

When I sat down to write Betty Ahern, I didn’t think about likeability too much. I wanted readers to be interested in her story and want to follow her. Betty is young, she only has a high-school education, and she comes from a working-class neighborhood. She’s not some society debutante – she can’t afford to be. That’s how I tried to write her. It took me by surprise when my editor said Betty had a hard edge that might be a turn-off for readers. But I wanted that edge. My editor and I went back and forth on it, and I think we came up with a picture that stayed true to who I believed Betty is without making her distasteful to be with.

I also think this question comes up way more for female characters. Why aren’t unlikeable men as much of a concern?

Kerry Peresta: A few years ago, when “Girl on the Train” and the TV series, “House,” ruined me forever, I decided I liked flawed protagonists much better than perfect ones. Or even good ones. I could not get enough of Hugh Laurie, who was the protagonist everyone loved to hate. And, I suspect, most people secretly loved, if the ratings were any indication. I was so sad when that show ended! But between those two characters, I was hooked. Flawed protagonists, likable or not, became my go-to.

My protagonists have the best of intentions. Honorable and righteous. Dependable and responsible in many ways. But they ultimately have a fatal flaw that inspires my plot arc, and creates a story that is, in my opinion, much more complex than if the character is too perfect or agreeable. I want my protagonists to have depth, and flaws drive that depth for me. I want them to do things that are unexpected and often shocking. The breakout novel, “Girl on the Train’ garnered mixed reviews. Some loved Rachel, the book’s protagonist, but many disliked her intensely. I mean, it was extreme! Not me, though. I adored her. She was someone pathetically flawed and deficient but somehow heroic. Perpetually hopeful. In short, someone I could relate to.

When I am crafting characters, even the outliers have a distinctive vice or struggle—trying to quit smoking, for instance, or perhaps recovering from a less-than-perfect upbringing. All things that my readers can relate to. Everyone, I’ve found, struggles with something. If a character has no struggles, I don’t personally perceive them as interesting.

In short, I don’t consider likability so much an issue as relatability and authenticity. I believe if we relate to and believe the protagonists we, as writers, create; then so will the reader.

C.L. Tolbert
: My protagonist Emma Thornton, is female, and not only that, she’s an attorney. I hate to admit this, but attorneys are universally disliked, and I imagine the numbers are greater, if that’s possible, for female attorneys. So, Emma has two strikes against her. Emma is also a mother of two, who in the current book, is also a hard-working law school professor. She cares deeply about her children, her students, and her clients. She is in a relationship and cares about that as well. But few people can relate to a woman who, as an attorney, also solves murders. Flawed and reckless, she regularly makes mistakes, which is an off-shoot of her enthusiasm, and desire to solve the case. Yet I’ve been told that Emma’s determination, grit, and tenacity make readers care about her character, and that is what makes them want to keep reading.

In 2015, Forbes magazine noted that being “…genuine and honest is essential to being likable.” But it’s never been essential for a fictional character to be to be likeable, or even pleasant. But it is necessary for readers to care about the protagonist or they won’t continue to read the book. A protagonist with a short fuse, or an annoying manner is usually forgiven by the reader, especially in the midst of conflict. A weakness, a flaw, or even an eccentricity is often the element of a character’s personality which makes him or her more relatable.

Is it Sherlock Holmes’s skill on the violin that makes him relatable, or is it his drug addiction? Perhaps the addiction makes this brilliant, eccentric character, who otherwise seems impossibly inaccessible, vulnerable and more human. Poirot is vain and narcissistic. Both Holmes and Poirot are moody and lonely. Is it the loneliness we sense in these two men that, in addition to their brilliant crime-solving brains, keep us coming back for more?

A flawed character is more relatable, more interesting, and more sympathetic than one who is merely likeable. What seems to matter more than likability is what makes the reader care about the protagonist, and keep turning the page.

Readers, how important is it that you “like” a character? And do you think likeability is more of an issue for female characters than male?

HANK: Oooh! Good question! What do you think, Reds and readers?

********





Mally Becker became fascinated with the American Revolution when she peeked into the past as a volunteer at the Morristown National Historical Park, where George Washington and the Continental army spent two winters. A former attorney, advocate for foster children, and freelance writer, Becker and her husband live in Warren, NJ, where they raised their son. The Turncoat’s Widow, featuring Becca Parcell, is her first novel.



Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series, set in the scenic Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo, NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Pennwriters, and International Thriller Writers. A recent empty-nester, Liz lives outside Pittsburgh with her husband and a retired-racer greyhound.



Kerry Peresta’s publishing credits include a popular newspaper and e-zine humor column, “The Lighter Side,” (2009—2011); The Hunting, women’s fiction/suspense, Pen-L Publishing, 2013; and The Deadening, Book One in the Olivia Callahan Suspense Series. Recently, she worked as editor and contributor for Island Communications, a local publishing house. Her magazine articles have been published in Local Life Magazine, The Bluffton Breeze, Lady Lowcountry, and Island Events Magazine. Before starting to write full time, she spent twenty-five years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, and copywriter. She is past chapter president of the Maryland Writers’ Association and a current member and presenter of Hilton Head Island Writers’ Network, and the Sisters in Crime organization. Kerry is the mother of four adult children. She and her husband moved to Hilton Head Island, SC in 2015.



Cynthia Tolbert is the author of the Thornton Mystery series. In 2010, she won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of Out From Silence. Cynthia developed that story into the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. Her second book in this same series, entitled The Redemption, which is set in New Orleans, will be released in February of 2021. Cynthia has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel to large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer.



116 comments:

  1. Congratulations, ladies, on your newest books . . . I’m definitely looking forward to some enjoyable reading!

    I think “likable” is less important than “relatable” whether the character is the main protagonist or a secondary character. I think the liking comes, at least in part, from understanding the character and being able to relate both to her and to the situation in which she finds herself.
    And, while nobody seems to worry about likability for male characters, I believe the story still turns around being able to relate to the character and the situation . . . .

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    1. Joan, I absolutely agree about "relatable" vs "likeable" and yes, I do think that applies to males. It's just frustrating that people use "likeable" far more to talk about female characters (at least in my experience).

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  2. Yes!
    It is kind of fascinating, though, as you say,l— That the “rule” for male characters is quite different. Am I oversimplifying here?

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    1. I don't think so. As Joan points out, the words used are different - and we all know words have power.

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    2. I think likeable is subjective...we are all different and certain personalities resonate with us more than others. I'm not thinking about likability when I craft a protagonist, I'm thinking about how 'real' the person is, based on the many women I've known. But, yes I DO want the reader to like her! Which is all based on relatability and authenticity, perhaps!

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  3. I need my main characters to be likable. I need to be able to root for them. And yes, I am include male and female main characters here. Honestly, I often have a hard time rooting for an anti-hero as the lead. I need heroes and heroines. Flaws? Absolutely! But something for me to want to see them get a happy ending.

    That being said, I will certainly go along with an anti-hero or someone with a prickly personality if I can see some level of goodness in them or understand motives that are relatable.

    In other words, give me someone to root for if I am going to spend so much time with them. But if they aren't likeable, I'm going to wonder why I should care and move on to something else.

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    1. That's a good point, Mark. It's far easier to cut a likeable person a little slack as you journey along with them to figure out why you care in the first place.

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  4. My requirement for a character is that they are redeemable. I don't have to completely like or love a character, because there should be some flaws, but underneath their bad decisions and bad choices and failing to reach out for a better life has to be the heart of decency and a realization at some point that they must change certain aspects of themselves or their lives. I am going to do something that I rarely do and that is to say I didn't like a book and why. Gone Girl was an unsatisfactory read for me because there was no redemption. The characters were pretty much a lost cause at the end of the book. And, what's worse is that by the end of the book, I didn't care. I'm happy to say that I have only read only a few books like that, ever. Of course, I have to admit that I much prefer to actually like the main character. I don't ever need or want characters to be perfect, but the characters I am most invested in are ones I care about.

    Congratulations to the four authors here on your new books. It looks like we have lots of great characters to read in them.

    And, Julia, I enjoyed your interviewing Russ Thomas for Murder by the Book last night.

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    1. I've never thought of characters I like as flawed but redeemable and - as you put it - with a heart of decency. Thanks for giving me a new perspective, and thanks for the good wishes on my/our books!

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    2. I love that - redeemable. Yes. Hopefully the character who is a hot mess is at least trying to be better.

      Thanks for the kind words!

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    3. I love this comment. Yes, redeemable! Absolutely! And the story is all about the journey to redemption. (Good plug for your book, Cynthia). My protagonists race after redemption, with many stumbling pitfalls along the way. The antagonist...well, some do and some don't.

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  5. I'm having a hard time distinguishing "likable" from "relatable" in the context of the books I read. Only because it seems that the characters I find most likable are also the most relatable, if that makes sense. I can't relate to a "perfect" character (I even read one book in which the lead was so perfectly badass that she pissed me off!), and I can't relate to a character with no redeeming qualities or who doesn't basically have a good heart. So give me edgy, imperfect, multifaceted, interesting, characters with good hearts ultimately trying to do the right thing - someone I'd like to get to know better over coffee or beer - and I'm your reader for life.

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    1. I love how you describe this and totally agree!
      Congrats on your release!
      And congrats to Mally, Liz, and C.L. as well!

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    2. To me, "likeable" is always, "I'd be good friends with this person and have them over to dinner." I don't need to be every character's bestie. But they can't be a total turn-off either. Something has to keep me going.

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    3. I like this, Kerry...edgy, imperfect, multi-faceted, interesting...all things I aspire to attain in sketchng my protagonist. Complex is so much more interesting, and I love the depths of the human mind. Darkness included. Naivete included. Stupidity, also. My books are not so much about the crime as the human condition.

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  6. In a series, I have to like the main characters, if not, what's the point of continuing reading about their adventures.

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    1. This is true, Dru. Three hundred pages is a long way to journey with someone who you don't find comfortable to be with.

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    2. Agree! I have to like the character, or as in Hugh Laurie in 'House', I have to hate them AND love them, be compelled enough to see what they are going to do next.

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  7. Congratulations MALLY, LIZ, KERRY AND CYNTHIA on the releases of your books!

    Like some others, I DO NOT have to like the protagonist but I DO need to relate to them, or find their journey interesting enough to continue reading the book. And if it a series, I need them to have an interesting character arc to keep me reading.

    I have given up on several long-running series when the main character is stuck, especially in a love triangle that has no sign of being resolved!

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    1. This made me laugh. I stopped reading a very entertaining series because I just got fed up with heroine's endless romantic complications with 2 men. The never-ending story arc had become boring

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    2. Thanks, Grace!

      Yes, the character arc. I'm not there yet, but I can see where in a long-running series it's challenging to keep the character growth going).

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    3. That feeling of hopelessness when a character is stuck is frustrating, isn't it? I've stopped reading many books because of this, too. It's like...are you ever going to learn? Let's work on a different issue now...

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  8. Congratulations all four!

    (I am reading this on Chrome on Windows, and most of the lines are cut off on the right - heads up.)

    As others have said, I need a relatable protagonist whom I like most of the time. Of course she'll make mistakes, but those give her a way to change and move forward. She has to have good intentions.

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    1. Reading on Firefox on a Mac and also having the cutoff problem

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    2. Thanks, Edith!

      Good point. We all make mistakes or act in less-than-likeable ways sometimes. But if we learn from them, it makes people much more patient with us.

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    3. Thank you, Edith! Very exciting! As I write, I love discovering more layers about my protagonist. She may start off with several facets already planned, and end up with many more. I am wondering what will happen with Olivia in the next two books. I trust I'll get to know her better, and she will develop accordingly.

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  9. I think there is at least a superficial need to like any character that you are expected to invest yourself and your reading time in. I mean, if you hate a character do you really want to keep reading about them?

    I think the definition of "like" is skewed when talking about characters in books and TV. The characters don't have to necessarily be the kind of person you would want to hang out with. But they should be someone you want to see what happens with them next. This is not something that is exclusive to female characters but ALL characters.

    The only solace in reading or watching a character that you don't like is the hope that they get their just desserts. I mean, I despised Joffrey on the show GAME OF THRONES but I suffered through his every sneering appearance because I knew he was going to get one of the most richly deserved (SPOILER ALERT!) endings in cinematic history.

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    1. Jay, yes! This is a perfect way of putting it.

      And yes, there is something delicious about sticking with a no-good character just to see if he gets "his due" in the end. And yes, Joffrey did get his in epic fashion!

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  10. I wonder if 'likeable' is being conflated with 'nice' or 'demure', because I absolutely have to like the main character I'm spending time with. But she certainly doesn't need to be conventionally nice or demure as a female. Badass is fine -- is great -- by me, but badass means tough and uncompromising, not horrid.

    I echo Edith in saying that the right end of the lines is cut off in my view of today's post in Chrome on my MacBook.

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    1. AMANDA: Badass females are fine by me but I still want her to be multidimensional (and often flawed) to continue reading.

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    2. GRACE: Flawed is fine by me; perfection is boring (and, anyway, what the heck is that in a person!?). But, for example, I would not spend time reading about a lead character who tortured puppies. That is not a flaw, that is mean and horrid -- and the real world has too much of that in it; I don't want it in my books.

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    3. YIKES, I can read some pretty dark stories but I don't enjoy reading a book where the baddie (e.g. serial killer or psychopath) tortured puppies or children. Their evilness can be shown in other ways.

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    4. Amanda, I think you might be right. People I like are often not "nice" or "demure," because, well, who is 100% of the time (and frankly, that person would probably drive me crazy because, as you say, perfection is boring).

      But yes! No torturing puppies!

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    5. No torturing puppies! Or kittens! And especially not children. I write psychological suspense, and my favorite thing about is exploring the complexities of thought and action and the 'whys'. Fascinating.

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  11. I don't always have to like a character -it helps of course- but I have to find them interesting, I think. I get not liking anyone in Gone, Girl but I thought it was pretty brilliant piece of writing anyway. OTOH I was trying to understand how thrillers work and I started reading a hugely popular older one. And I was bored.Yes! All plot but characters so undeveloped I couldn't care about what happened to them.

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    1. Triss, I think that was a problem with a lot of older thrillers. Plot trumped character and it is so not the case these days. My favorite books/series always stick with me because of the characters and how they reacted to the plot.

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  12. Welcome to each of you and congratulations! You can see from the discussion that this topic hits home. I struggled with it in the first book of the Key West series, in which poor Hayley Snow still gets criticized for being ditzy and not very thoughtful with her friends. She gets stronger and stronger as the series goes on, but I did risk some folks dropping out early.

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    1. Thanks, Lucy!

      It's that growth thing, isn't it? If you start at the top, where do you go?

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  13. I personally really like bad ass heroines! I don't necessarily have to feel like I'd be friends with them, but I do want to feel like I understand them, and can root for them--either success in a goal or redemption if they're going down a bad path.

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    1. Thanks, Jess!

      Yes, I think you have to have a reason to be on their side.

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    2. Agree. Me too! I especially love heroines that start out passive or emotionally impaired in some way, and then to their surprise, erupt into badass behavior. And maybe find out they like it. (Evil laugh)

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    3. Yes, SO agree. We can wonder how their brains work, and see if they succeed. (Did you watch I Care A Lot?)

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  14. Congratulations, ladies, on your new books! How exciting!

    I think relatability is essential, but likability is important, too. I have run into characters, male or female, where I understand their motivation, but think it's wrongheaded for one reason or another. Too many stupid but self-righteous choices, and I'm apt to opt for a different story. I like badass, but I like a laugh now and then, too. I might not want to bring a character home for dinner, but if I don't enjoy the time I spend with her, or him, I'll go spend my time some other way.

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    1. Yes, and I think readers are all so different in what they like and dislike in a character! That is why, in my opinion, it is so important to be true to write the character that feels right, not what the author thinks more people will 'like' or approve of.

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    2. Oh, absolutely! You can't "focus group" a character and have anything authentic. Write the person you want to use to tell the story you want to tell. If I don't enjoy the person or the story, that's my choice, not yours. Chances are, I will like it all, and even if I don't I'll give the story a fair shot.

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    3. Thanks, Gigi.

      Yes, I think if you try and force the character into what is "popular," you run the risk of missing completely and no one will like them. What's that saying, you can't please 100% of the people 100% of time?

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  15. Congratulations to you all for new books! And I would think you've all managed this question adroitly with your characters because readers keep demanding more!

    I confess, there are two books I've never read because of comments made by reviewers on the characters--one is Gone Girl and the other is The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling.

    I will stick with a character I don't like if I trust the author. One example is the character Agent Nichol in Louise Penny's Gamache series. Of course, Gamache isn't infallible, but I trust him, so I think there must be something redeemable in those he chooses/trusts.

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    1. That's a good point. Using your example, Louise Penny's books have so much heart that I (also) trust that the author's got a reason or three for making a character like Agent Nichol appear so unlikeable.

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    2. J.K. Rowling's (as Robert Galbraith's) Cormoran Strike is an example of a male character who is relatable but not always likeable. He's grumpy, impatient, and sharp tongued, but decent and honorable. And we certainly root for him through the series.

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    3. Thanks, Flora.

      Excellent point. I never picked up The Casual Vacancy because of the way reviewers portrayed the characters. Seriously could no one be even a little bit worth spending time with?

      And yes, trusting the author (or the protagonist) is such an important point. If a character you do like trusts the other person, there must be something right?

      And Debs, I would say the same of Sherlock Holmes? Holmes isn't always a "nice" guy. Yet we persist because we know in his heart he is a decent one.

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  16. Congratulations Mally, Liz, Kerry , Cynthia for your February releases !

    I agree with Cynthia: “ But it is necessary for readers to care about the protagonist or they won’t continue to read the book. “
    I don’t care about a character if I can’t relate to her ( or him as well ).
    I can’t pinpoint what can make me relate to the character but I’ll know it after reading a few chapters.

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    1. Thanks, Danielle.

      Yes, I think caring might come first. If I care about you, I'll stick around to see if you become a "more likeable" person.

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  17. Writing a historical mystery, I kept reminding myself that human nature doesn't change over time, even if clothes and manners do. "Relatability" was my goal.

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  18. Are you all seeing weird spacing on this blog? It looked fine last night when I posted it, but now… Let me see if I can fix it! Let me know how it looks for you.

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    1. Thanks, Hank. On my computer right now at 10:24 it was still funky-spaced.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. I'm having a hard time with this. Normally, I would say no, it's more important that characters be interesting - that you absolutely must find out what's going to happen to them (or what they will do) next. But I recently didn't finish a novel I was really looking forward to, as I had loved the author's previous book. My problem? Every single one of the characters, victim, detective and suspects, were dreadful. They were, variously, whiny, self-important, demanding, cruel and spineless. I didn't want to spend any time with them.

    So I guess my takeaway is that characters don't need to be likeable, per se, but you need to give me at least one person who isn't dislikeable. Even in "And Then There Were None," where everyone was guilty, Phillip was charming and brave, Vera was vulnerable, the judge was clever, etc.

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    1. Well said, Julia. The part of it that is most interesting is how subjective it all is. There are probably lots of readers who didn't object to the characteers the way that you did. I know that I love things that others find distasteful, but I will not apoplgize. Neither should an author feel that she should apologize for creating a strong or edgy character.

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    2. JULIA: Wow, that book you didn't finish sounds horrible!
      I used to finish reading a book no matter what, but my patience (tolerance) is wearing thin these days, so I have had several books that I was looking forward to read as DNF, and went onwards to the next one.

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    3. I know that I won't like everybody I encounter--I don't like everybody I meet at work; don't like every single character I read about--but I ought to like enough of them to go forward. If it's just one single likable character struggling in a sea of awful people, I'll root for that character. But if they're all awful, they can all sink together as far as I'm concerned.

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    4. Julia, very well put. There has to be SOMETHING worth sticking around for. Who wants to be surrounded by whiny jerks for 300+ pages?

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  20. I just read a book where I thought that the protagonist was not sympathetic or very likable, although I think she was supposed to be. The book had such a good premise but this character's many issues and personality made it very hard to read - I kept putting the book down and saying "really?" The only reason I stuck with it was because I wanted to see how it ended. I don't think you have to love the main character of a book to enjoy it, but you need to feel some kind of affinity with them.

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    1. Celia, I think this is a good point. Sometimes we read just so we can see how it all works out, but we'll definitely feel like we missed...something, if we can't bond with them for some reason.

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  21. Great post! So excited to read ALL of these books!!!

    One of the biggest sticking points between me and my editor in romcom world is whether my characters are sympathetic enough. What’s even more annoying is the reader feedback confirms what she says. If I ever go for a PhD in creative writing my dissertation is going to be on the internalized misogyny of the female reader.

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    1. Jenn, I once had an editor (female) tell me that my female protagonist was too self-sufficient. Go figure.

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    2. So interesting, isn't it, the different opinions out there? As writers, we must develop a thick hide and find where that editor's sweet spot is...or argue for our point of view!

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    3. I'd definitely read your dissertation!

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    4. Flora, arghh!! Too self-sufficient??? Grinding my teeth...

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    5. Flora, that HAD to be said ironically...Please tell me that...

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    6. Jenn, I think it's really true. No one is as hard on other women as women. That's true of fictional characters, too.

      I listening to a podcast recently where the guest was a transgender woman. She was shocked at the casual (and sometimes not so casual) misogyny she saw/experience FROM OTHER WOMEN once she wasn't looking at the world as a man.

      And Flora, please tell us that was ironic!

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    7. This was years ago and not the least bit ironic--to be an acceptable mid-list book, my heroine needed to be less capable. I thought her biggest vulnerability was her inability to trust herself, but apparently that wasn't enough.

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  22. I don't really need to like the characters, but I need to care about what happens to them, male or female. Jenn, I agree that there is a lot of internalized female misogyny around, not just by readers, try voters. Enough said.

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  23. I'm going to come back and comment later but is anyone having problems with the post this morning, other than me? The right hand of the page is chopping off words.

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    1. I cannot read the right hand of the post either.

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    2. HANK: Yay, you fixed it just as I posted my comment that it was still wonky (same time, 11:33), so I deleted that comment.

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    3. Yes, it was some bizarre formatting thing, which wasn't apparent last night when I posted, so thank you, dear Grace!

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  24. If I'm going to invest my time in a book I want to find something in the characters that will bring me back for more. Not perfection. Would I want to spend time with him/her if they were real? Could we be friends in the real world? I gave up on one well known series because the main character blatantly broke the law (B&E?) time and again in her investigations despite her background in law. I would not want to hang out with a person like that in real life. Likewise the character that makes the same mistakes over and over and doesn't learn from her/his experiences.
    We're all different, with strengths and weaknesses, and that is what I like to see in books.

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    1. Pat, that's always a tough one. In my first Homefront Mystery, I had to have a character break into a place. They know it's wrong, but it's the only way they're going to find the information they need. So I had to really work to show that inner conflict so readers could sympathize and understand why they made that choice.

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  25. Hi all! I’ve entered two responses so far and neither has been published! This is Cynthia Tolbert (CL). Thanks again for inviting us to answer such an interesting question! I also had a problem seeing the right side of one section of my response. Im not sure why my previous answers haven’t been published. I’m going to try again in a separate comment.

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    1. Oh, Cynthia, it's about coming in through Chrome, and not through a link. It only happens sometimes, and it's incredibly annoying. Thank you for persisting--you clearly figured it out!

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  26. This was probably more relevant a little earlier - but I loved the likeability issue. I wanted to have a protagonist that was a working mom with all that entailed. So Emma is over-worked, and grumpy, and doesn’t always feel as if she’s doing a good job. She’s the family disciplinarian and holds everyone together. She’s abrupt and to the point because she doesn’t have time for anything else. She’s also driven, something usually associated with men. She isn’t particularly likeable but people have commented that they “like her for” certain characteristics such as her determination. They forgive her strident nature because she gets the job done. Working moms are the unsung heroes of today’s generation. So, In that way, Emma’s relatable. Thanks again for having us today and for this issue. It was a great topic for all of us!

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    1. I think, sometimes, people--real people--like that aren't inherently grumpy and abrupt. They're just overwhelmed by all the crap they have to wade through. For me, if you give me a little glimpse of a character like that in a more reflective moment, thinking about, "I probably shouldn't have told the boss to stuff it," or "I'd mentor that person if I had half an ounce of decency but, dang it, the decency well has run dry," I would be more likely to like her because we've all been there. It's not her outward actions but her inner thoughts that make her relatable.

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    2. I agree! I hope that's primarily the reaction people will have to Emma.

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  27. Reading all your wise comments is fascinating. I am more interested in a person who's well, intersting! If I understand their motives, I may be curious to see what happens to them, even if it's that they get their comeuppance. If the STORY is good, then the character is a part of it. And it often depends on what others in the book think of them too. Often it's a POV situation, and then we are surprised, as readers, when we learn the reality.

    The thing that bothers me, and you can easily tell when it happens, is when the author MAKES the character do something they would NEVER do --clearly just to serve the plot of the book. I often tell my writing classes to ask: what would your character REALLY do? Not what YOU the author want them to do. It can make such a difference.

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    1. HANK: So true! Big pet peeve for me when an amateur sleuth character does not learn anything from past experiences with dead bodies and murderers and still goes alone to check out a clue or suspect to advance the plot.

      TSTL=Too Stupid to Live is the acronym, I think.

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    2. Hank, and it always comes out, doesn't it? My critique group will say, "She'd never do that. Why is she doing that?" Fortunately, they are also good about helping me figure out what has to happen and making it come about in a more organic fashion.

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    3. Great...and when you figure out what she would REALLY do--I find it's always so much better!

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  28. Speaking of which--anyone watch I Care A Lot? There's an example to chew over!

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  29. Good insight! And totally agree. Be authentic to the character.

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  30. Congratulations to all of you on your publications!! Such an interesting question today. I think we have a tendency to confuse "nice" with "likeable." Characters don't have to be nice for me to feel invested in them, but they do have to be likeable in the sense of having qualities I can relate to. However, when I'm writing it never occurs to me whether or not my characters are likeable!

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    1. Debs, that's pretty much my feeling. A character doesn't have to be "nice" for me to like them or care about them. Lots of real people I care about aren't nice all the time. Why not the fictional ones?

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  31. I agree, relatable is more what I look for rather than likeable. And, as Hank says, does things that are believable give who they are. Having said that, I do enjoy reading a series with a protagonist who I really really like. Makes for an easy enjoyable read.

    Congratulations on the new books, ladies! Waving to Liz!

    And I think men writers can face the same issue if they dare to write a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist.

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    1. Thanks, Hallie (waving back)!

      Yes, a series where I truly do like the character is a bonus.

      You know, I recently re-read PRIDE & PREJUDICE and I realized - I don't always like Elizabeth Bennet, even though I always want her to succeed because I care about her.

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    2. I'll dump an unlikeable/unrelatable guy pretty quickly, in fiction or IRL.

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    3. Hallie, I agree that the character has to be relatable.

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  32. I like characters who are sarcastic and say what they think. Not mean, just direct. It seems that older women in books are considered likable even if they aren't always nice. I tend to find pushovers less interesting.

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    1. Direct, not mean. Yes.

      It seems in literature, as in life, being a "woman of a certain age" gives you license to not always be so "nice" to people, and be a little more direct.

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    2. I can like just about any character -grumpy, sarcastic, maybe too direct- if I can tell that she has a moral compass. I need to be able to understand and relate to the "why" of her behavior.

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    3. Miss Marple is a perfect example. She says what she thinks and stays polite. She never uses swear words. That is another big turn off.

      LIZ, I agree with what you said about being direct, not mean.

      Diana

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  33. I am def with you on that!! Direct, being the operable word.

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  34. Sorry but I HAVE to like the characters. If I do not like the characters, then I cannot continue reading. As long as there are a few unlikable characters and many likable characters, I do not mind if there are a few unlikable characters. And I want to see these unlikable characters get their comeuppance. To me, the unlikable characters are characters who are cruel to people and animals.

    Love the covers, though.

    Does a woman have to be likable? To me, the character (regardless of sex) has to be likable. It can be a female or a male.

    However, I have noticed that in many murder mysteries, it is often the women who are the murder VICTIMS and it does not seem to matter if the author is a woman or a man. I wonder if that is reflective of the society that we live in?

    My favorite Midsomer Murders mystery on TV is the story about a would be murder victim (a woman) who turns the tables on her would be killers and all of the would be murderers become murder victims themselves. LOL.

    Diana

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    1. Another thing: the character has to be relatable. No one is one dimensional. The character does not have to be perfect.

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  35. CL Tolbert, I googled your books on Goodreads and the first Emma Thornoton mystery is about her being asked to defend a Deaf man accused of murder, It is not often that I see deaf people in mystery novels. Wondering if you have met deaf people in real life?

    Diana

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    1. Thanks Diana, yes, before law school, I taught learning disabled kids for about ten years, and taught next door to a deaf education classroom. I got to know several of the deaf kids, and was lucky enough to become friends with the teachers as well. I learned much more about teaching language skills and language itself from those deaf ed teachers than I'd ever learned in school, and I have a Masters of Special Ed. It was a great experience. I learned the sign alphabet and a few signs, but I'm not fluent in sign language. I wish I was. I used several of my deaf teacher friends' techniques in the book, though, such as stomping the floor to get the deaf person's attention. That worked, especially since, at one school, we taught in trailers.

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    2. Diana, I didn't sign in for the comment above. This is Cynthia Tolbert. :)

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    3. Cynthia, thanks! Have you seen The Silent Child on You Tube? It is free right now. It won an Oscar for the best Short film. The actress is the same actress in ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL.

      Diana

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    4. Thanks Diana, I'll check out The Silent child. Issues of communication are always of interest to me. In Out From Silence, the deaf character, Adam, hadn't been properly educated, hadn't been taught sign language, and was exclusively a lip reader, at his parent's insistence. So, his ability to understand what others were saying was limited. His superior intellect served him well, and other senses kicked in, making him hyper-aware of his surroundings. I'm looking forward to The Silent Child. I've enjoyed Rachel Shenton in All Creatures Great and Small. What a wonderful series that is!

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  36. Lucy Roberta, I'm afraid I didn't like Hayley so didn't continue the series. Input from this blog and others had me reconsidering when I won Key Lime Crime. I am now up to date and ready to read the free book. Thanks. Since I have so many books to be read, I need to like at least some of the characters to keep reading. Stay safe and well.

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  37. Coming late to the party as usual (why don't I get the emails when the blog posts???).

    Anyway, I don't have to like female characters to want to read more about them. They just have to have characteristics I can relate to in a way that matters to me. When I was young, women weren't supposed to speak out, to be too gutsy, etc., and despite having lived through women's liberation and all that has happened since then, I still have conflicting feelings about some characters -- too loud, too pushy, etc. -- and yet I find myself rooting for them anyway because I'm so angry that they have to fight so much harder just because they're female.

    I have the same sort of issue with the main character of my mysteries, Lady Rosamund, who starts out as such a snob--but a confused, essentially kind-hearted one with a lot of vulnerabilities. If I have portrayed her well enough, readers will get past her prejudices and understand where they spring from. (By the way, Liz, I liked Betty a lot!)

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