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Monday, September 22, 2014

DO CHARACTERS HAVE TO BE LIKABLE?

By Barbara Barrett, Guest Author

Apparently readers don’t like their heroines to undermine their best friends. My heroine in Saved by the Salsa, Lacey Rogers, took quite a beating from judges’ comments and ratings in the contests in which the early rendition was entered. What really brought the point home to me was when I pitched to one of my dream agents. After I’d taken a minute to lay out the main theme, she immediately put the kibosh on my idea by telling me there was only one other author of whom she was aware who’d successfully used a similar theme, and that was probably because that author had already made it to the New York Times list. (No, she still hasn’t indicated an interest representing me.)

In that version, Lacey was convinced her best friend had made a horrible mistake by immediately taking up with the office Lothario, Jack Dalton, within days of being dumped by Lacey’s brother. So Lacey decided to “seduce” Jack away from her friend, rationalizing that Jack was too much of a player for her friend. She wanted her friend and brother back together.

At the time, I was influenced by the film, “Her Best Friend’s Wedding.” Not at all the same plot, other than that heroine set out to break up her friend’s marriage, because she didn’t feel his fiancĂ©e was “right” for him. I thought both the Julia Roberts character and my own heroine were quite noble for trying to save their friends from themselves.  

Nonetheless, I went back to the drawing board. How many of you have done that? I reexamined the basics. What was the essence of the book? For Lacey, it’s twofold: not only does she want to be a top-notch architect, she also wants the family she lost after her father deserted them when she was a child and her mother died when she was a teen. Thanks to her father walking out on them and being jilted by her fiancĂ©, Lacey doesn’t trust any man other than her brother to stick around. So the family she so desires must come from her brother, hence the reason for reuniting him with her best friend.

In the revised version of the story, I kept the break up as well as Lacey’s desire to get the two lovers back together. But rather than work against her girlfriend, I had Lacey and her friend join forces to make the brother jealous with Jack. Jack knowingly agrees to serve as the fake boyfriend, so he won’t be hurt by their plan. Yes, there’s still some scheming going on, but I felt it was the kind of plot device readers would accept, especially since it serves to keep Lacey and Jack apart during the early chapters.

I continue to struggle with the “likeability factor” in my stories. It’s a constant push-pull to create interesting, compelling characters that readers can also relate to and like. But from my own experience as a reader, I lose interest in a book if I don’t like the characters. So I know it’s important. It’s just darned hard to accomplish sometimes and still tell the story you want to tell.


Here's the blurb for SAVED BY THE SALSA: 


Junior architect Lacey Rogers welcomes the opportunity to work with Jack Dalton, the firm’s golden boy, that is, until her hormones can’t resist his charm and spectacular looks. How can she keep her mind on their design project when her most potent designs are on him?

Jack Dalton has always worked alone. Now he’s got a partner. Is he losing his touch? Is that why he hasn’t been named principal yet? To make matters worse, he can’t take his eyes off the petite piece of fluff. If he can’t find some way to cool his jets, he won’t be able to keep his hands off her either.
But on the dance floor, their mutual resistance melts as their bodies meet in the vibes of the Salsa. Can the dance keep them collaborating after the music ends?   


Here's an excerpt when they're on the dance floor:

Jack took them through routines she had never encountered despite numerous visits to Salsa clubs. But she met him step for step, exhilarated by the challenge. Jack’s eyes burned. Her skin glistened from the exertion and the heat of the moment.

They floated and swirled, awash in the music, but her eyes couldn’t leave Jack’s. If possible, the glint from earlier had sharpened into the undeniable look of desire every woman instinctively recognized. In response, strange sensations pulsed through her body— sensations which blended physical arousal with emotional need while her heart pounded in rhythm to the Latin beat.

She noted vaguely how the crowd parted to make room for them. When the dance ended, the two of them stood there, chests heaving, suspended in a moment only they shared.

A wave of applause broke the spell, as other couples came up to congratulate them.

“You were fantastic!” a fiftyish-looking woman cried.

The man with her chimed in. “The couple on our CD does similar steps, but I’ve never seen them done in person. You guys are great.”

“How long have you been dancing together?” another woman asked. “You were so well synchronized.”

Fanning her face, Lacey didn’t know what to say. “Uh, well, uh, no…it was spontaneous.”

Apparently Jack’s lungs had survived better than hers as he was able to address the crowd. “My partner’s still a little winded, folks. We’re giving a class, if you’re interested. Monday night at seven. Mackenzie and Associates.” Announcement delivered, Jack grasped her hand and led her back to their table.

“A class?” she gasped between breaths. “Are you crazy?”

“I enjoyed dancing with you too.” He pulled out her chair for her. When she was seated and he was in his own chair, he leaned across the table conspiratorially. “Did you happen to notice anything our group of admirers had in common?”

She chugged down her entire water glass before replying. “They were able to breathe normally?”

“Try again. Never mind, catch your breath. I’ll tell you—they were all boomers!” 

Saved by the Salsa Buy Links


 
Barbara Barrett, Author

Barbara Barrett spent her professional career as a human resources analyst for Iowa state government, and that training has stayed with her in her writing of contemporary romance fiction. Now retired, Barbara spends her winters basking in the Florida sunshine and returns to her home state of Iowa in the summer to “stay cool.” She has published three romance novels with The Wild Rose Press, And He Cooks Too, Driven to Matrimony and Saved by the Salsa, the first in the Sullivan’s Creek Series, was released in August 2014. Her fourth book, The Sleepover Clause, the first of the Matchmaking Motor Coach Series, will be released in upcoming months.
Contact Information for Barbara Barrett



18 comments:

  1. It IS hard to keep them interesting as well as likable, I think, but so worthwhile. Unlike flesh-and-blood friends, whose foibles I always forgive (and vice versa, thank goodness), an unlikable heroine's story never gets finished. If I'm going to invest time in a book, it needs to be girlfriend-type time without the things that make you wonder why you and so and so are friends at all.

    I love the changes you made to Lacey's story!

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    1. Thanks, Liz. It wasn't easy, and I didn't make this decision overnight. At one time, I also had four POVs, the H/H plus the brother and the best friend. It was so much easier telling the story that way. So besides revising the relationship with the girlfriend, I had to switch everything to two POVs only.

      Barbara

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  2. Liz, loved your post. SAVED BY THE SALSA sounds too good to miss.

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    1. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my latest release, Caroline. I hope readers have the same attitude about reading "Salsa."

      Barbara

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  3. Saved By The Salsa sounds intriguing! It has immediately been put on my TBR list! I love the story line and am so looking forward to reading it!

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    1. Thanks, Karren. I hope you'll enjoy it when you get to it. As I reread it through numerous revisions and edits, I decided I'd made the right move.

      Barbara

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  4. Yes, characters need to be likeable for me. Not perfect by any means and not wishy-washy doormats, either. It's okay if everyone thinks the heroine is a b*tch as long as the reader knows differently! ;-)

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    1. JoMarie, this was the first book I ran by beta readers, after I'd switched the story line around. They still had MANY comments, but the likeable part didn't come up. So I passed that test at least. :)

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  5. Characters must be likable, but that doesn't mean they have to start out that way, for me at least. If there is a traumatic backstory that warrants a character being the way they are, I can deal with it, as long as that history makes an appearance earlier than later in the book. I love a character I can sympathize and cheer on to a happy ending after all of the trials he or she endured. I have a serious soft spot for flawed characters because that makes them so much more real. In the end, though, likable is key. Great post Barb!

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    1. Appreciate your thoughts, Rhea. I've never struggled with the likeability thing until this book. One or two judges' comments might not have convinced me to take another look, but this was too frequent. Thanks for stopping by.

      Barbara

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  6. I have to like my hero and heroine too. One of the few things that will make me give up on a book is disliking either of them - in fact one of the classics I couldn't finish was Gone with the Wind, simply because I disliked Scarlet so much. Without doubt our readers need to empathize with the main characters in a romance, even if she may occasionally do something less than admirable. Nice to hear your thoughts on the topic, Barb.

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    1. Karen Ann, it's a real challenge sometimes to make the character flawed but still likeable, but I think one of the key factors, if done successfully, for readers to embrace a book.

      I had trouble with GWTW after Bonnie Blue died, but I stuck with it.

      Barbara

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  7. Hello Barbara. Greetings from a fellow WRP author. I thought I already posted this comment so if it shows up twice, oh well. Interesting post. Not a plot dilemma I'd considered. Way back when, I tried to pitch my GH finalist novel, Through the Fire, to NY and got a lot of 'we don't do NA themes' back then. Sometimes you never know what they want or don't want until after you've already written the story. Congrats on a fabulous release.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Beth. WRP authors are so supportive of each other. I hope you asked to be notified if anyone responded to your post, because I just got back to this blog today after taking a day off. I'm vacationing in Arizona, but as a pubbed author, you can't just leave things completely alone.

      Barbara

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  8. Characters have to be likeable, and they should also be memorable and unique. I want to read about a H/H that I can root for! Good luck with your new book, Barbara.

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    1. Jana, the problem sometimes is who is defining "likeable." I thought readers would still like my heroine even though in the first version she tried to steal her best friend's boy friend because she thought she was doing it for her friend's benefit. Others didn't see it that way, which is why the change of story line.

      Barbara

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  9. This looks so good! Added to my tbr list. I can relate. In all of my books the heroine is a work in progress. Even though later in the book she learns from her mistakes, she takes a bashing from reviewers. I just keep writing the flawed heroine, to me she's real.

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    1. I hope you like the book when you get around to reading it, Lisa. There's a lot more to my H/H than I wrote about here. I wanted to focus solely on the "likeable" angle. Sorry about the bashing you've received from reviewers. Sometimes it's a matter of opinion and who gets to state their opinion of someone else's work.

      Barbara

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