Who Are You Hanging Out With?

Bored asian girl lying on the couch watching tv at home in the sitting room

During a recent television program, realization struck. I didn’t like anyone on the screen. So why was I spending time with them?

I don’t think I’ll be returning to that program soon.

When you are writing a story, you are asking your reader to hang out with your characters. For a very long time. Will they want to do that?

Granted, you’ll be providing drama and conflict. For the sake of the story, a couple of your characters may be stinkers. But in the end, the reader will need to like your protagonists. Or at least be intrigued enough by your anti-hero to stick with your story. Whatever you do, make your characters worth your reader’s time.

Your turn:

What is the most sympathetic character you can remember? Why?

What characters do you feel have become fictional friends of yours?

15 Responses to Who Are You Hanging Out With?

  1. Jackie Layton March 13, 2014 at 4:25 am #

    The Sisterchick Series by Robin Jones Gunn is a great series. I read those books more than once and listened to them in the car. Those ladies became my friends and taught me great spiritual truths. I almost think Down Under was my favorite and them I remember having tea in Go Brit. It’d be hard to pick a favorite.

    Thanks for the reminder to make our characters likable.

    Have a blessed day!

  2. Angie Dicken March 13, 2014 at 5:39 am #

    Hi Tamela! When I think of a great character, or at least one who inspires to be better, I think of Melanie in Gone With The Wind! Oh my, she was a glass half full kind of gal! A character that I felt like I was friends with once the book was over, was Leanna from Liz Curtis Higgs, Thorn In My Heart. Wow, I was so sad to finish the book!
    Sadly, there are a few books that I couldn’t finish because of the characters, so this post is a great reminder to take care in character development!
    Have a great day!

  3. Thomas Allbaugh March 13, 2014 at 6:43 am #

    I seem to like most of Nick Hornby’s characters. They aren’t just hero/villain types because his stories don’t really create their tensions that way. They are a little better drawn than that, especially in _A Long Way Down_, which would seem on the surface–with four suicidal characters–not to have any redeeming characters in it.

  4. Deb Elkink March 13, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE (in Alexander McCall Smith’s “#1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, set in Botswana) has such homespun wisdom–makes me feel as though she is my auntie. SISTER JOHN, a cloistered nun (in Mark Salzman’s delightful novella, “Lying Awake”), is the perfect character for the author to explore the subject of religious ecstasy–loved that book, and it’s a great example of a character being “used” by the author without the reader (at least, THIS reader) feeling cheated out of relationship with the protagonist. One more: the screenplay version of the characters VIANN and COMTE DE REYNARD (but not so much of the original novel, “Chocolat,” by Joanne Harris) really snagged me for the same reason as the foregoing. That is, both pro- and antagonist thoroughly embodied (almost iconically) theological/philosophical positions that played off one another, and I feel connected and empathetic towards both.

  5. Jeanne Takenaka March 13, 2014 at 7:49 am #

    Anne Shirley is probably one of my all time favorite characters. Ever. Who doesn’t feel for an orphan who only wants to have a forever family and a bosom friend? Loved that series. I still think about her and quote some of her lines.

    Other characters that have stayed with me are the characters from the O’Malley series by Dee Henderson. They are strong, memorable and I’ve learned some good truths about God through those books.

    And, as Jackie mentioned, I love the Sisterchicks series. The women are likable, dealing with issues I deal with and Robin Jones Gunn weaves in spiritual truths in a way that inspires me to live more grace in my every day.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 13, 2014 at 8:38 am #

      Jeanne, my mother is re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series. I bought the complete set for her as a Christmas gift. :)

      • Jeanne Takenaka March 13, 2014 at 8:39 am #

        I love how the Anne books are enjoyed across all generations. :)

  6. J.D. Maloy March 13, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    Jeanne, whoo hoo, I immediately thought of Anne AND Gilbert. They’ve stayed with me more than any other because they’re comfortable and familiar like my fleece blanket I’ve had since middle school. I read Green Gables or Avonlea in spring when the warmth and bursts of color flirt with us. I could talk Anne all day, but what strikes me about that series is the lack of tension or conflict other than her wanting a family, home and bosom friend. Which brings me to this:

    In Anne Lamott’s chapter about characters in bird by bird, she write, “If your narrator is someone whose take on things fascinates you, it isn’t really going to matter if nothing much happens for a long time. I could watch John Cleese or Anthony Hopkins do the dishes for about an hour.”

    She goes on to talk about how the protagonist/narrator faults make them likeable. (Anne was always getting in mischief wasn’t she, haha, and we love her for it.)And Lamott likes for narrators to be like the people she choses for friends. Interesting.

    There are many more nuggets in the chapter, but I found it refreshing that Lamott went back to the basics and reminded us that we need to make our protagonist likeable and reliable first. Then all the conflict, tension, layers and other character dynamics that connect with the plot come later.

    Deb, I can only imagine how fun life would be if Precious was my aunt!

    • Jeanne Takenaka March 13, 2014 at 11:37 am #

      JD—I’ve loved Anne AND Gilbert since I first read her stories in my early twenties. I agree, some books in the series have more tension than others, but she’s still so fun to read about. :) I’m glad you shared the thoughts of Anne Lamott. Those are good things to consider in my own writing.

      • Jackie Layton March 13, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

        You all have got me wanting to reread those books now. So many good books and so little time.

      • J.D. Maloy March 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

        Gilbert. Sigh. :)

        I have a writing friend who loves Prince Edward Island like I do, and we want to go and take the whole Anne tour someday! Glad Lamott can be useful. Bird by bird has helped me rediscover how connected life and writing are.

        Jackie, so true! My read list is so long. But Anne is a must every spring or when my mind is spinning like a top. One page from there and I relax as if sitting in a field of wild flowers.

  7. Christina Dohring March 13, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    I have been swept away by Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series. I started with Still Life and immediately wished I could be friends with the characters. Her vibrant and insightful descriptions and conversations have made this a series that makes me feel as though I’m saying goodbye to good friends when I close a book. I laugh, cry, worry, and get angry about their choices. Oh, and there’s always a good mystery to solve, but that almost seems to be the backdrop to the people. I feel as though I could walk into their fictional town and make a home for myself there.

  8. Linda Chontos March 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    I would happily spend time with any one of Jane Austen’s leading ladies. And Jan Karon’s Father Tim has become a dear friend. I find I’m drawn to characters I admire. Often they have qualities I long to see in my own life. I’m also encouraged to see their weaker sides and watch as they grow.

  9. Pegg Thomas March 13, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    Black Beauty for the sympathetic character.

    James Herriot for the fictional friend.

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