Creative Writing Tip: If you don’t respect characters you need your readers to root for, something’s wrong

1055796_whats_in_a_wordThis post is all about respecting your characters: at least, characters of the hero variety.

I’m reflecting on my first attempt at writing The King’s Sons (which releases TODAY!), when I had to start over with a new plot after 100 pages. Yikes!

If this is your first stop to my blog this week–hello, and welcome!–, the first post of the series outlines four major ways I messed up in approaching that first “first draft.” Upon reflection, I realized I made a lot of mistakes that led to the need to rewrite.

This post today is about the fourth error: I kept writing about a heroine I didn’t particularly like, or respect.

Like versus Respect

First off, like and respect are two different things. I don’t think it’s particularly necessary for an author to “like” all her hero characters, especially when you have a group of them the way my novels usually do.

For sure, you should never like everything about any character you write. If you do, your character isn’t anything like a real person. Readers will scoff at how unbelievably perfect he is.

You can respect someone, though, without liking that person and subscribing to his or her life view. You can respect some aspects of a person’s approach to life while frowning upon others. That’s equally true of characters.

It’s possible to focus on how a knight character is a loyal friend and selfless protector of the people, even if he’s treated his wife like crap.

A man might not be a great father, but he’s a good doctor and devoted to the well-being of his patients, going the extra mile for them consistently. In fact, respecting the degree to which he cares for his patients allows you to invest in this character and hope that he will learn to be a better father.

RESPECTING “GOOD” CHARACTERS HELPS THE READERS (and the writer) CONNECT WITH THEM AND HOPE FOR THEIR IMPROVEMENT IN AREAS WHERE THEY’RE NOT SO RESPECTABLE

This is why you have to respect your characters. And I didn’t respect a major player in my original plotline.

She was a liar, and I didn’t appreciate that, because the situation in which she was lying showed her to have a streak of cowardice I really loathed.

She treated a good guy who cared about her like crap, because she had always been in love with another man. This man happened to be married.

The plot would have called for her to kiss the married man, a coworker, at some point, which really angered me and made me hate the woman even more. And I was supposed to be rooting for her to break up a string of slave trade kidnappings!

The plot was not for me.

My heroes are always people who, to a large degree, share my moral code. This woman didn’t, and I just couldn’t write a story that made me pull for her or care about her in the way I needed to. The plot I was writing–the first plot–never allowed her to let her selfless streak show.

For some reason, I couldn’t focus on the good things about her–and there were good things. I tried. I tried for one hundred pages, and then, I had to tell myself that enough was enough.

I advanced the action seven years in the future, changed the plot substantially, and came up with a way to put this woman (Francie is her name) in a situation where I could respect her. I also made her more of minor player.

I didn’t show her gossiping with friends or shunning a perfectly good guy. (That character got cut, unfortunately. I did like him! His hatred for the capital city of Podrar was modeled on how I hate Chicago so much and really amused me.)

The final version of The King’s Sons show Francie’s resiliency, her bravery, and her dedication to serving a good king. She isn’t perfect–she still never managed to get over the feelings for that married guy–but at least she doesn’t make a move on him.

If you’d like you can read the prologue of The King’s Sons, featuring Francie, at this post.

So, what do you think about respecting characters? Do you have examples of characters you’ve read that you didn’t necessarily like, but ended up respecting in some way?

If you enjoyed this post, consider following my blog by email (top right corner of the page.) That way you won’t miss out on the posts to follow.

Book I of my trilogy, The Crimson League, is free for download May 31 (today!) and June 1. This is a great opportunity, since the story of Herezoth will be complete for all to enjoy now! Don’t miss out. You can get the ebook at the link above.

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13 responses to “Creative Writing Tip: If you don’t respect characters you need your readers to root for, something’s wrong

  1. You’re right — it’s important that we as authors respect our hero characters, or our readers may not even finish chapter one. Great post!

  2. Reblogged this on Author Unpublished and commented:
    This is a great post on how we should, at the very least, be able to respect our characters, even if we don’t like them. Personally I think this applies not only to Hero’s, but Villains as well! There’s nothing more charismatic than a villain that we respect despite their many moral flaws. Check it out!

  3. What an important distinction to make! You can always tell in a book when the author didn’t feel right about a character. Excellent point to remember!

  4. This is a great post and brought to mind Gone With the Wind. Scarlett is a vapid, spoiled little brat and her love for Ashley, a married man, clouded how she treated Melanie, and her husband, her sisters, Rhett..in short, everyone. She is really hard to respect. Yet, we do. We also see how well she treats the slaves. They respect her. We see how she respects the land, and rather than lose Tara, she works every bit as hard as the slaves. She loves her child. She loves Rhett, but discovers that a little late..This is one of my favorite books because Margaret Mitchell takes a character that the reader initially hates and changes her into a heroine, a champion to all.

  5. This is so true Victoria. I recently finished reading one of the classics and it was so difficult because I didn’t like the characters. I forced myself to read it just so I could check it off my list and well, I was hoping it would get better but it didn’t.

    • 😦 I love my classics–well some of them. Others definitely can feel dry and dfull, and a LOT of that has to do with not liking the characters. Not connecting with or respecting them. That’s a really valid point.

  6. Pingback: The Tuesday Double Five: Writing Process (June 4) | The Daily Word

  7. joshuadavidbellin

    I tend to agree with Author Unpublished that we have to respect ALL our characters–whether we want readers to root for them or not. Respect leads to understanding, and without understanding what makes our characters tick, we’re going to produce (at best) one-dimensional cutouts that can’t sustain an interesting story.

    • That is so true. The breakdown you give there is 100% true in my experience. I didn’t respect the villain in my first unpublished novel and he is utterly one-dimensional.

  8. Pingback: Blogger Spotlight | When I Became an Author

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