Over the weekend, I finished a book that I really liked, Surrender of a Siren. It was a book I’d read for a book club, and some of the other members of the book club didn’t like it. Why? They didn’t like the heroine.
Maybe this hits a little too close to home for me because I’ve been told that some of my heroines are a little hard to love. I personally thought that the heroine in this particular book definitely made some poor decisions at the beginning of the story, but she changed, grew up, and ended up making good decisions by the end, so I was ok with her. Obviously, other rational readers didn’t necessarily agree with me. (Perplexing!)
After a similar shop-talk discussion about likable heroines a few months ago, my friend Katharine Ashe sent me a document she’d found with a list of ways to make your characters sympathetic (or likable).
Michael Hauge’s four suggestions:
1) Make her funny.
2) Make her very good at what she does.
3) Make her a victim of some unwarranted tragedy.
4) Make her powerful.
These aren’t necessarily specifically for your heroines; they’d work just as well for your heroes. But I bet most of you can think of at least one example of a heroine from all of those categories. In the book I mentioned above, the heroine is really funny, even at the beginning when she’s making somewhat irrational decisions. Maybe I’m just a light touch, but that was enough for me. Another funny heroine: Elizabeth Bennet. I loved her immediately.
There are just scads of heroines who are great at what they do, and pretty much every heroine ever written is the victim of some tragedy or another. Power is a little bit touchy for heroines, in my opinion… but it can be done.
- We care about characters we feel sorry for.
- We like characters who have humanistic traits.
- We like characters who have traits we can admire.
- Undeserved mistreatment
- Undeserved misfortune
- Physical or mental handicap
- Frustration or humiliation
- A moment of weakness
- Has been betrayed
- Exclusion and rejection/loneliness and neglect
- Represses pain
- Life endangerment
- Lets down defenses in a private moment
- Helps the less fortunate
- Likes children
- Likes animals
- Change of heart
- Helps or risks life for a friend
- Ethical or moral & responsible
- Dependable, loyal
- Power & charisma
- Thoughtful & wise
I think this is a great list, and a good jumping-off point for making your heroines (or, really, any character) likable.
What would you add to the list? Do you think any of these are off the mark? Do you have to think this hard about making your heroines likable? (I do.)