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October 25th, 2010
It’s All In The Characters

My guest today is author Jessica Chambers. She has a new women’s fiction release called Voices on the Waves available from Red Rose Publishing. Today Jessica is talking about characters and why she thinks they’re so important.

Voices on the WavesFor me, the most important part of any novel is the characters. This is particularly true of women’s fiction—one of the reasons I love both reading and writing it so much—but I believe it applies to all genres. Why do we continue turning the pages, if not to find out how things work out for the individuals involved? Is there any way for them to disentangle themselves from the mess they’ve gotten themselves into? When will the hero and heroine overcome their problems and find love? Will the protagonists ever emerge from their adventures alive?

This doesn’t mean that a strong plot isn’t also vital. However vivid and memorable the characters, if they don’t have a goal to achieve, a problem to solve or some kind of obstacle to overcome, the novel would simply be a random sequence of events and interactions. However, I don’t feel a writer should ever rely too heavily on the plot to hold the reader’s interest. NO matter how gripping and action-packed the storyline, if readers feel nothing for the characters, why should they care whether or not they reach the end unscathed? In R. D. Wingfield’s novels, we follow Detective Inspector Jack Frost’s bungled investigations under the ever disapproving eye of Superintendent Mullet. Naturally we want to solve the mystery along with him, but if we didn’t like Frost as a character, we’d have no interest in whether or not he succeeds.

Of course, the characters don’t necessarily have to be likeable. They simply have to be real enough for us to feel a connection with them. A prime example of this is Gone With The Wind’s Scarlet O’Hara. There’s just no getting away from the fact that she’s a spoilt brat with far too high an opinion of herself, and who doesn’t give a damn who she hurts so long as she has both the men in her life dancing to her tune. Despite all her faults, though, as the novel progresses and Scarlet discovers within herself a steely determination not to be defeated, we develop a genuine respect for her and end up rooting for her to come through.

So no, characters don’t have to be likable. They do, however, need to be believable. We need to be able to look at them with all their flaws and virtues, and recognize someone we could meet in our every day lives. If we don’t believe in these people, if they don’t leap off the page with a life of their own, we’re hardly going to care what becomes of them. I recently read Beach Coma by Josephine Cox. In fact, the plot shows quite a lot of promise—guy coming to terms with the death of his wife and children, meets girl who shows him he can love again, and all the while a mystery figure wants to ensure the hero never finds out the truth of what happened to his family. The trouble is, the hero and heroin are so sickeningly perfect that I just didn’t believe in them, and as a result, was completely indifferent to either the peril facing them or their budding romance.

So, to sum up. A strong plot is vital to give a novel its structure, but without lifelike characters the reader can relate to, the whole thing will more often than not fall flat on its face.

These are my thoughts, for what they’re worth, but I’d love to hear what you think. When you pick up a novel, is it the plot that captures your interest, or is having an instant affinity with the characters more important ? Are there any novels you feel combine these two elements particularly well?

CONTEST: Anyone kind enough to leave a comment here, or at any point during my blog tour, will automatically be entered into the draw to win a $15 gift voucher for either Amazon or Barnes & Noble, so don’t forget to provide an email address in case I need to contact you. I’ll be announcing the five winners at the end of my tour on October 31st over at my blog so good luck!

Thank you so much, Shelley, for inviting me on your blog today, and for all of you for stopping by. Tomorrow, the Voices On The Waves Blog Tour continues with an interview at the home of Savannah Chase. Hope to see you there!

In the meantime, my debut women’s fiction novel Voices On the Waves is available now from Red Rose Publishing

16 comments to “It’s All In The Characters”

  1. I like characters that are likeable, and most times believable. Even with some of the paranormals I read if the characters aren’t believable it makes it hard to really get into a book where you can’t fantasize that some of the characters could be real, walking down the street and might walk right past you .

    if the characters aren’t likeable, for me it’s hard to read a book where I don’t at least want to like the characters.

  2. I totally agree, Mary. Even if characters have flaws, I have to at least be able to empathise with them.

  3. For me motivation is the key. I’ll believe almost anything the author tells me as long as they give their characters the correct motivation. Also the character needs to grow and get past their baggage by the end of the story.

    Great post, Jessica.

  4. Thanks, Shelley. Yes, if we can’t believe in a character’s reasons for doing something, we won’t connect with the story.

  5. Congrats on your new release, Jessica! You’re right – it might be the plot that “hooks” me in but if the characters aren’t realistic and someone I can at least understand, if not empathize with, then I can’t read it.

  6. I like characters who intrigue me and who fascinate me. The characters have to be sympathetic or, even if they are evil, they have to be have flaws or issues that make them realistic. You want to root for the nice characters, and you should be so fascinated by the villains that you keep turning the page. Congrats on your new release. The discussion here has been great.

  7. I look forward to having Jessica as a guest tomorrow. She is such a great author.

    To add my comment. I need to fall for both the plot and characters. If I’m not into the characters then the book is missing something for me.

  8. I like characters with flaws. That makes them real. I remember one time a reviewer slammed my hero in Blood Wolf because he was “aggressive, domineering, and just a hair short of insane.” I thought — uh, yeah! That’s totally who he is. I meant for him to be that way. Perfect characters have no room for growth. Perhaps he wasn’t completely likable at first, but he was intelligent and passionate. His growth was a huge part of the story.

  9. Congrats, Jessica, on your book–I agree that characters don’t need to be perfect, but I need to be able to relate. They can’t be so dislikable that I loathe them, at least by the end. I like when I can see them grow into someone I DO care for. After all, we can all relate to having weaknesses!

  10. I will pick a story with wonderful, full-developed, believable, and compelling characters (likeable or not) over intricate plotting any day. It figures because that’s the way I tend to write too :)

    I like a good story, but it’s the people and their motivations that make it work for me.

    Congratulations on your new release!

  11. Wow, thanks so much everyone for taking the time to read my post and for your kind words. I’ve so enjoyed reading your comments.

    I agree that characters need to be intriguing as well as empathetic. I’ve just started reading Making Your Mind UP by Jill Mansell, and the characters are all very nice, but there’s nothing particularly interesting about any of them. I honestly don’t think I’m going to be able to finish it.

    Again, I really appreciate you stopping by!

  12. Hi Jessica,
    I love the title, very appealing. :lol: :smile:

  13. Sorry I didn’t mean to laugh. It was the smile. OPps might be bedtime for me now. :smile:

  14. Thanks so much, Suzanne. So gglad you like the title!

  15. It’s definitely the characters. I just have to care about them and then the author can take me anywhere.

  16. It’s exactly the same for me, Catslady. Thanks so much for sharing!