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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Character Clinic: Lila Oleander

Happy May Day, everyone! I've got the wonderful Jessica R. Patch's contemporary romance character, Lila, on the couch today, courtesy of her having won my last How Does That Make You Feel? giveaway. (There is still time to get a comment in my latest HDTMYF post and win a mini-assessment for one of your character' here!)

Here's a bit about Lila: After her mother passed away when Lila was 12, she grew up trying to garner the attention and approval of her Fortune 500 company CEO dad. She took an interest in the company, and was good at it, earning her position. She's a New York city gal, so her dad's request to move to his former hometown of Glory, MS---to "discover the meaning of life" and better understand the values he built his company on---doesn't sit well. Lila is a private 28-year-old, almost aloof, who doesn't like to admit failures or weaknesses to anyone.

Jessica wants to know: How can Lila be likable to readers and gain sympathy while being true to her guarded nature and impersonal behavior?

Gaining reader sympathy isn't the objective so much as making readers relate to your character. (click to tweet!). Characters in books and film have personalities we might not like, or would never associate with in real life, but enjoy reading about and watching on TV.

There will be scores of women who will relate to Lila's drive to succeed, or perhaps to her desperate need for her father's approval. These traits are likely to be apparent from scene 1. But you can also capitalize on the things mentioned in her intake form that give readers a reason to look up to her, such as her love of helping underprivileged women.

To further this point, I still stand by an earlier blog post that touts Steven James as one of the most masterful storytellers in that he gives his evil, serial-killing bad guys this soft that makes readers totally relate to a PSYCHO. It's actually a bit disturbing, when you're kinda sorta hoping said psycho won't get his comeuppance in the end. Of course we don't like like the guy. He's a murderer. But we do like his love of dogs, or respect of women.

It's no different for your character, at least at the start of the novel when she's in her precontemplative stage. She's guarded, but based on her intake form, it's not real clear why. It's motivation, not execution of action, that make or break a reader's ability to relate to a character (click to tweet!).

For example, if she's reserved because at one point in her history, she stuck her neck out and it got chopped off (to use a cliché b/c it's late and I'm tired), then I believe readers will totally buy in to her reservations...even better, applaud her for them. But you've got to hint at this motivation very early on, so they can suspend disbelief long enough for you to unravel her backstory as necessary.

Hope that Lila has enjoyed her time on the couch was a short session, but fun!

Let's Analyze

How do you make your own character's flaws very apparent at the beginning of the book, yet not so much so that they turn off readers or make your characters hard to relate to?