My two critique partners are at odds–he hates my main character, she loves her. What’s a poor writer to do?
Of course, this is what I get for needing to be critiqued as I go along. Really, is that not an insane notion? Why would anyone want folks to see their unfinished work? But being read is what keeps me motivated–and what makes me want to write my best before I send out my work. If I feel like someone’s looking forward to my next scene, next chapter, I feel obligated not to let that person down. If that sounds a little warped, well, consider the source.
Developing a dark protagonist isn’t easy. The hero has to be both seriously flawed and somewhat sympathetic. Likeability isn’t necessarily the key, but believability is.
Debra, my main character in Corporate Ladder (see the WIPs tab), is a success-driven woman with a painful past and a Christian boyfriend who believes her to be saved. She believes herself to be saved. That’s what makes her unreliable as the story-teller. Because she loves her boyfriend, she tries to act like a Christian–at least around him. She isn’t a “bad girl”; she knows the difference between right and wrong, but the application of that knowledge is often filtered through her desperate need to succeed. And she’ll bend any rule to obtain her goal, twist any scripture to justify her actions–and believe she’s doing the right thing.
I think I’ve got the “seriously flawed” aspect of her character down pretty good.
But my opposing critter may have a point. I didn’t let her dip her toe into the turmoils of sin, I made her dive in head first. Because of that, according to him, she loses the reader’s sympathy and the required element of believability. He perceives her as evil to begin with, not as a good girl gone bad during her race for the brass ring. No explanation of why the race was so important to her sufficed for him once he developed his opinion.
Which is another reason why I like my crit partners to be with me as I write. Making characterization repairs is so much easier when caught early than when the final words are typed in. Right now, while I’m only in chapter four, Debra is pliable. I can do with her what I want because, since I don’t do character biographies until around chapter eight or so, I’m learning who she is as I go along. I can easily go back and add a gold veneer to her character and slow her downward spiral.
See there? My writing process may seem a bit warped, but there is method to my madness.
I often relate to Jane Austen in her comment about her titular Emma character: “I fear I’ve created a character that only her author could love.” It’s tough act balancing on that wire between believability and likableness – but I think the answer is summed in one word: interest. So long as the character is interesting, readers will forgive him a plethora of sins. And Austen’s Emma was most definitely interesting!
Thanks, Katie. I appreciate your perspective on this!