Do Your Readers Have to Like Your Heroine?
In the last post, I maintained that you have to like or at least understand your heroine. So, it seems redundant to ask if your readers need to like her, too.
But the surprising answer is NO. Not if your heroine is compelling.
What is compelling?
In The 9.17% Solution, one of my protagonists was Jamie, a manipulative, scheming, damaged young man who plots his way up the corporate ladder.
One reader of an early draft announced, “I hate Jamie.”
Enough to sink the heart of any writer. “Did it make you want to stop reading?” I asked tentatively.
To which he replied, “No, I had to keep going to make sure the bastard got what he deserved.”
Writer heart started repumping.
That was when I realized that while it’s probably preferable your readers find your heroine sympathetic, it isn’t always necessary. You can do away with this requirement completely if she is compelling. That is, your reader wants to keep reading about her.
How do I make my heroine compelling?
Obvious next question: how? You’re gonna throw up your hands when I say I don’t know. I don’t know how I made Jamie compelling or whether he would be so for every reader. Perhaps the sense that Jamie was racing to an inevitable and unavoidable doom? Perhaps his flashes of humanity?
I bored everyone in my life for weeks, asking them to think of compelling literary characters. (Movies don’t count because the viewer has access to many more than the written word on which to base their judgement.)
It was tough. Anne of Green Gables? Scarlett O’Hara?
What it came down to is no paint-by-numbers list of characteristics or techniques. There didn’t seem to be a commonality among the suggestions; nor did everyone agree with every candidate.
But they all agreed that compelling characters made them want to find out what happened to the heroine even if she was despicable.
Again, it comes down to magic
I was forced to conclude that this is the magic that is writing.
You put the work into learning your craft. Showing when needed and telling when not. Supporting the plot with description rather than distracting. Growing your characters. All to create a continuous dream in which your reader can reside.
Beyond that, you get at the core of the story by telling the emotional rather than literal truth. And every day, you are naked on the page. Bringing your unflinching self to writing, no matter how shameful, wicked, or shocking it might seem to you.
And then, you hope for the best. Hope that the work, the honesty, and the caring will be rewarded with writing that nobody can put down. That magic will strike.