Sunday, February 28, 2016
BORING CHARACTERS? HERE'S WHY! by CHERYL PIERSON
The other day, I came across an article in a little newsletter I get a few times each week called QUORA. This is a newsletter/site where people can write in and ask questions—sometimes really odd or different questions, like “What does it feel like to die?” or “Are only children happier than children from large families?” – just stuff like that, and anyone can answer. Once the questions are answered, you can see all the answers, but the ones with the most “Upvotes” are the ones that move to the top of the answer page.
The other day, one of the questions was something like, “What makes a person boring? How can I try NOT to be boring?” I read several of the answers, and as I did, I thought about the characters we create and how this might apply to them, as well.
Growing up in the 60’s/70’s, there was still a prevalent idealogy that, to “catch a man” everything had to be about him. Even articles in magazines for young girls, such as Seventeen and Glamour and Mademoiselle talked about the things we women should do to make sure we snagged our guys and kept them. Number 1 on every list was “TALK ABOUT HIM”. Make him feel that he’s the most interesting thing on earth.
Here's an example from Tiger Beat: Look at the worried expression on Davy Jones's face...what teen girl wouldn't give anything to make him smile again?
And David Cassidy? Be still my heart. Let me find out what I need to do to make him MY OWN!
My personal heart throb at the time, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders...I must know the bad things he does, and of course, the things he can't live without. How can I hope to please him, otherwise?
Have you noticed this in some of the romance books you’ve read? In the words of the Toby Keith smash hit, “I wanna talk about me, wanna talk about I, wanna talk about number one, oh my me my…” (I’ve included the song below with lyrics so you can enjoy them all!)
Well, some of the responses to what makes a boring person (or character) were pretty eye-opening. One of them was that the boring person was “absent” from the conversation—although they’re right there physically, they’re always trying to guide the conversation back to their interests. When everyone else is discussing books, the “boring” person is wanting to talk about something they are an authority on, or at least know more about than others there, rather than contributing to the ongoing conversation. If they DO manage to take part in the conversation that’s flowing around them, they’re only waiting on their chance to say what they have to say—not listening to what other people have to contribute.
I’ve noticed that in many romance books, the hero is not listening to the heroine because he wants to; he listens for information he might be able to use. A classic example of this is Sweet Savage Love. Oh, how I loved that book, and still do—but I do recognize that in today’s world there are some problems with it. Steve really doesn’t see Ginny as a person with wants and needs and desires—his goal is to make sure the intrigue that’s happening around him is manipulated to his plans, and Ginny is there to slake his sexual thirst. He does fall in love with her, but for much of the book, we know she is very much in love with him…and aren’t so sure he has any feelings for her at all above the sexual desire he feels every time they’re in a room together.
So our hero needs to actively listen to what the heroine is saying (which is going to require him to think about what she says) and he is going to need to be “present” mentally and emotionally—not just physically—when they’re having a conversation.
As for the heroine? Voicing an opinion or a conviction about a subject she feels strongly about is imperative. This is usually not a problem for the hero—he’s out fighting for the cause, or going after the bad guys, and so on. But for our heroine, in a time when women were to be silent, well…our heroines can’t be held to that rule. You’ve heard the word “feisty” used to describe heroines of many books. That’s a nice way of saying, “A heroine who has her own opinions and isn’t afraid to stand up and be counted!” If a heroine isn’t interested in any social injustices around her, or doesn’t have a cause of her own of some kind, what does she do to be interesting? Constant parties or working on needlepoint doesn’t make for an interesting person. She must have something to care about—something that might even come between her and the hero.
In my book, Gabriel's Law, Brandon Gabriel and Allison Taylor were at the same orphanage together for a few years as children. It's Allie's dream to open her home to young boys who can help her raise cattle, investing in their futures. Brandon has no dreams...but as adults,when Allie saves his life, her dreams become his without his even realizing it's happening.
Remember, in dialogue, the most important key to keep your characters from being boring is letting them tell their story in an interesting way. Keeping a secret until the end of the dialogue, a secret the reader may know but the heroine is keeping from the hero, then springing it on him in a bombshell, is an interesting way of making the facts known. But it does something more—it shows personality traits about both the hero and the heroine. More on that next time!
What's something one of your heroines cares passionately about? What about one of your heroes? Does he have something he believes in that makes him interesting? Leave a comment for a chance to win a digital copy of GABRIEL'S LAW! Don't forget to include your contact information. I look forward to hearing what you all have to say! And this is for everyone--if you aren't a writer, tell us about a character(s) you've read about and what made them interesting to you.
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I knew this was going to be good! Toby Keith's song? I once could sing along with the lyrics, Talk about me, talk about I, talk about...And this is where my tongue would tangle up and I'd have to continue with la-la-lala, etc.ReplyDelete
In my newest PRP release All My Hopes and Dreams, the hero Ricardo, cares passionately about one thing...his horses. Oh, he loves his parents, and he loves the ranch which is one of the original Spanish Land Grant ranches of the day..and okay, he cares about his new Anglo wife. Readers of this romance often tell me, "That Ricardo is so stupid. Look how he treats his precious wife,...." But they never seem to turn away from the story because of that.
I think it's because Ricardo needs that "attention" from a special woman but doesn't know it.
Boring characters? I've closed...or Deleted...many a romance novel because of this very thing. And so this is why I have loved Gabriel's Law from the beginning. There's not a boring character in it. Allie is a super heroine!
Thanks for this lesson on creating an exciting character.
Celia, I agree wholeheartedly with you about Ricardo. I don't believe he was ever taught to love by his parents--he's having to find out all about that on his own. And though Cynthia was pampered and loved by her father, that's not the same, either--so both of them must discover what love is. They're a good match. You always do a great job of having your characters involved with other people/causes in the stories you write, as well as showing their developing relationships with each other.Delete
I'm so glad to know how much you enjoyed Gabriel's Law, too. That was one of my favorites to write.
Like you, I've started putting books down that don't hold my interest right away or if the characters are boring. Too many books, too little time. LOL
Lordy, I've read quite a few books where the heroine just said and did whatever she thought would win the hero over. These women didn't stand for anything, didn't have opposing opinions to that of the heroes, or aspire to become something different or controversial...in other words, boring. So when you said the heroine should have a cause they cared deeply about, I was right there with you.ReplyDelete
I like people (characters) who, instead of constantly trying to make the conversation about themselves, ask others questions. An introvert often does this to deflect the conversation from themselves because it feels uncomfortable to have the spotlight shinning on them. Of course, a character who evolves from a self centered narcissist to a caring, devoted person will win hearts because readers recognize something remarkable and interesting had to happen to bring that change about. That certainly isn't boring.
I found it great and insightful that you brought this subject up. This was such a marvelous article, Cheryl.
I read Gabriel's Law and loved it. Definitely not boring!
One of the very best books I ever read was called STORMFIRE by Christine Monson about a hero that kidnaps the heroine, and it's during the late 1600's (normally not a time period I read a lot of) in Ireland. The hero is Irish, the heroine is an English aristocrat. But she's young, and rebellious...still she's filled with fire about what she believes in...it's only later into the story when she finds out everything she believes is true turns out not to be as far as her ideals about the English ruling the Irish, even her own family...I have to say, that probably was the best romance book I ever read, and the characters were so realistic--which, in this case, does mean there are some unsavory things that happen. No sugar coating in this book.Delete
Sarah, I like it too, when characters ask questions of one another or when something is inadvertently revealed--even by the LACK of an answer.
If you can get a copy of Stormfire, you should read it. It's just excellent.
Thanks for stopping by today--I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I hope to do another one on dialogue.
Thanks for the very kind words about Gabriel's Law, Sarah!
One of my favorite characters is Taylor Stapleton in Julie Garwood's PRINCE CHARMING. That's one of my favorite books and I re-read it about once a year. She was obsessed with mountain men, but gave up everything in England to rescue her sister's children in America. Loved the post, Cheryl. That Toby Keith song is one of his best.ReplyDelete
That sounds GREAT, Caroline! I love the idea of someone being so selfless that they give up all that's familiar and dear to them and do something for someone else. Not many of those people around! I will be getting that book--I've never read it.Delete
I love Toby Keith. He's from Moore, OK, just a few miles from OKC. A "good ol' boy"--and I really enjoy his music. Another of my favorites by him is How Do You Like Me Now?
What a great post! Who knew Okies could be so insightful? ;-)ReplyDelete
I hate to abandon a book once I've started reading, but I've abandoned several recent romances because something was just "off" about them. (No, I will not mention titles.) I couldn't put my finger on what irritated me about the story, but something did. Now I know what it was: The heroines had no greater goal than capturing the hero. They SEEMED to have goals, but they weren't very devoted to those goals. Every time they reached a crossroads, they ran off to chase the hero's butt instead of pursuing their larger objective. Every time the heroine stumbled across a difficulty, she ran to get the hero's help.
Years ago -- like, 30 years ago -- the fashion in romance was the gallant hero on a white charger who...well, charged in to rescue the helpless, swooning heroine and sweep her away to a life of bliss. Not so much anymore.
I've also read some wonderful recent romances where the heroines are strong, capable women who have their own agendas and will flat-out tromp up one side of the hero and down the other until he learns to stay out of the way. :-D Then there are those in which the heroine saves the hero. Those kinds of departures from what we've come to expect of romance are delightful, I think.
You know, Sweet Savage Love was the first romance I ever read and it still remains one of my all-time favorites. The relationship between Steve and Ginny is so tempestuous, but...that's what makes it a great story--and you're always wondering what is going to happen next--and how the heck is Steve going to rein Ginny in. Because when she sets her mind on something, she does it. LOL But Steve has his ways. Oh, and I love it when the heroine saves the hero, too! Sometimes, he's not very appreciative, because he doesn't want to admit it, but in the end, he always recognizes it.Delete
Yes, I know what you mean about some of these books with heroines who SEEM to have goals, but are easily deterred or distracted. It doesn't say much for them, does it? I love heroines who try to do for others, even if it's a new concept for them. Many heroines have been born into a privileged life and never had to think of anyone but themselves. I think the realization that poverty and strife DOES exist, and that they have the power to do something about it and take action on that just endears them to me even more.
You'd be surprised how insightful an Okie can be! Here's a big ol' hug for you! XOXOXO
Awesome post, Cheryl. I remember those early romances... One Woodiwiss stays with me because the heroine just stands there and lets the hero? undress her and rape her and of course she gets pregnant and he becomes a good guy suddenly and marries get, But I admit to loving fairy tales. And I like Vivian's philosophy (a movie here, Pretty Woman) of... Yes, he saved her but she saved him right back. I try to run with that one lol.ReplyDelete
Tanya, I remember that book. I read that in my early 20's, if even that old, and remember thinking, "Wait a minute...DOES she want him or doesn't she?" I concluded that although she was SAYING "NO" she really meant "YES"--which, in that particular situation was something that was hard to believe. I like that saying you quoted from Pretty Woman. And I love heroines who do that very thing--"save him right back"! LOLDelete
I LOVE character studies like this one...what brings life, depth to a character? (As we know, life and depth are NOT the same thing). One of my favorite characters in my WIP series started out as "cowboy #4". You know, one of the secondary characters there to show there are more than just a handful of men on the ranch where my story resides. Ryder, "Cowboy #4 had other plans. He's one of the most exquisitely fascinating, charming and unpredictable characters I've ever come across. He is now in the main ring of the ranch, and I must be careful to hold him in check from time to time so my heroine's tragic and hardened personality, blending with soft-spoken grace, does not fall into that "boring" label.ReplyDelete
I love the unexpected in a novel, and coincidentally in personalities. Little quirks, I think, are an interesting way to make characters 3-Dimensional. One of my cowpokes abhors bathing, and let me tell you, that's one rank quirk other characters don't tolerate well. ;-) No boredom in that bunkhouse...characters have a way of stirring up their own entertainment. ;-)
Shayna, it sounds as if you are very aware of your characters and what "could" happen to make them appear boring and are doing a great job of staying away from that! Don't you love it when a character takes on a life of his/her own and starts telling you what THEY want to do? LOL Thanks so much for stopping by today, Shayna!Delete
I will put down a book that bores me, especially if I do not care about the characters at all. It's important that the characters are not ego-centric. They should be aware of the world and be a part of it. No matter what they are passionate about I want to journey with them and cheer them on.ReplyDelete
I used to feel like if I started a book I had to finish it. I don't know why, either! But now, I don't go on with one that doesn't hold my interest or that I know I'm not going to like the characters in, for whatever reason. Like you, Mary, I want to be able to cheer them on and feel their emotions, and if I can't--there's always another book waiting for me.Delete
Putting the "care" in character is, IMHO, the most important part of a story. You wrote an awesome article on just how to do this. Three cheers! And I loved Gabriel's Law!ReplyDelete
Jacquie, you always manage to do that with your stories, too--even with your animals! LOL I agree with you--if I don't care about a character, then why keep reading? Thanks so much for stopping by--I know you are swamped with your latest release! And thanks so much for your kind words about Gabriel's Law!Delete
MY WINNER FOR GABRIEL'S LAW IS....ReplyDelete
Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and congratulations to Shayna!