Sunday, 27 February 2011

Likeable heroes and heroines

Before she began Emma, Jane Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." I think she was wrong; certainly these days most readers like Emma. The heroine we don't like is Fanny Price, so outwardly meek while inwardly censorious about everyone else. It's the strength of a good book that we can have an opinion of the characters not necessarily the same as the author's.

I'm getting towards the end of the first draft of Unofficial Girl - 73,000 words out of an estimated 80,000 - and I've started wondering whether readers will like Nick Cavanagh, a spec op and one of the three main characters. He elbowed his way into a major role, ousting the disabled Marine who was to have been a key player in the story. Beth becomes romantically involved with him, believing he is there to protect her; in fact, he's hunting her replica. He's unscrupulous on occasion, an opportunist, ruthless and fairly selfish. But I like him. (I think the daughter does too, since she was disappointed when it turned out he is 5'10". She prefers taller men.)

I'm just writing the scene where the two Beths, the original and her identical copy, get together for the first time. Nick has tried and failed to get Beth One on her own and give her an edited version of events which will show him in a better light, and Beth Two is about to tell all.

Beth Two took the stool next to Beth and began to eat, apparently in no hurry to enlighten her. Her demeanour was relaxed and blithe, as if she might whistle were she not eating. Nick made himself a coffee while helplessly waiting for the truth to emerge like a rat from a toilet.


  1. I think it's like all things. It's hard to guess what others people's personal taste will be so when creating a likeable character it has to be to your own personal ideas and all you can hope is that other readers have the same preferences too.

  2. You must have really enjoyed writing that little clip. I love it.

  3. I'm not sure I set out to write likeable characters. I'm attached to most of my characters, even the horrible ones, perhaps because they reflect aspects (if repressed) of me.

    I stop reading books where I think the heroine is awful, but the author clearly thinks her flaws forgiveable or even endearing.

  4. Rod, I so seldom achieve a good simile I'm always terribly proud when I manage it.

    In the freeze this winter, a rat actually did emerge from my lavatory...

  5. Oooh we love us some bad boy anti-heroes, yes we do!

    p.s. I have Billie Piper (Fanny Price) vs. Gyweth Paltrow (Emma) battling it out in my sordid head!

    Take care

  6. Kitty, Gwyneth Paltrow was so WRONG for Emma.

    And Billie Piper's depiction, though appealing, was not true to the original. Her Fanny Price was rumbustious and assertive - a Fanny Price tweaked for the taste of our times. Sylvestre Le Touzel played a more faithful version on television many years ago.

  7. An actual rat? Yikes!
    In your brief clip, I liked Nick more than I did Beth Two. Is Beth Two 'bad' Beth, or will we be rooting for them both?

  8. K, I hope to make the reader engage with both Beth Two (hunted) and Nick (hunter) and have to resolve this paradox for themselves.

    (The actual rat was rather sweet, if a bit sewery.)

  9. I don't think we need to worry as much about making likable characters as interesting and believable ones. Give 'em the right flaws and readers can identify with them that much more.

  10. I wasn't worrying so much as wondering.

    My sister, having read two thirds of UG, said,

    "I don't understand Nick - should I be feeling that he is a hard man who is really deep down a good person or not? I do not understand his motivation, is he getting fond of Beth or is he using her? I would like more guidance in the book on this, even if I feel I am working it out for myself."

    I told her he is using her AND becoming fond of her. I wanted the reader to be unsure about Nick, to have to make up his/her own mind.