Editing Rant: Likeable

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

I read a book which if the book hadn’t been chosen by my book group, I would have jettisoned the book into the “abort” pile in chapter four, the verbal fight felt too manufactured.

More importantly, why I would have willingly swiped the book into my delete file is the main character (MC) took forever to develop one likable trait. Only during Chapter 9 – 25% through the story – did the MC show compassion and sympathy for another human being. Until then she used, lied, cheated, and manipulated everyone around her; only her tenacity in solving murder cases and drive to bring out the truth into the light of day etched marks on the “good person” side of the ledger.

Taking 25% of a manuscript is too long. Once the MC had showed emotional connection with the rest of humanity did I personally, as a reader, connect to her. And the rest of the book became interesting, the mystery engrossing. But until then, the only thing that kept me going was “book club.”

I’ve previous touched on how to make the MC engage the reader on 6/1/2017 (Magical Words May 13, 2014) “Characters Who Matter”. Engagement requires empathy and the MC needs AT LEAST two of the five following character traits: Sympathy, Jeopardy, Likability, Power, and Humor. And these traits need to introduced before Bad traits – like using and manipulating other people. Read the Magical Word post for the full discussion on this matter here: http://www.magicalwords.net/specialgueststars/darynda-jones-how-i-make-my-characters-unfogettable/

This MC wasn’t sympathy, those were the victims she gaslit to help her in her investigations. No jeopardy, she put others in jeopardy. Nothing to show why anyone would spend time with her, so likability is out. Power, yes a gun, but in general, the MC was a standard down-on-their-luck gumshoe. Very little power. Humor … the fights were very funny. That was it, good fun fights.

Too often people write the main characters as users, without showing the investment the MC made into the friendship before needing to use them. Instead the MCs come across as gaslighting, narcissistic monsters. Just because MC is the baddest dog in the pen does not mean any of the other dogs are going to play with them.