I can still smell the fear in the e-mails from my agent and editor as they grappled with the prospect of my turning Charity O'Connor -- the woman that so many readers wanted to slap in A Passion Most Pure (and whom fellow Seeker Camy Tang wanted to kill or maim!) -- into a LIKABLE heroine.
An impossible task? I didn't think so, but time will tell if readers will fall in love with this wonderfully flawed woman who was truly a pleasure to redeem. I simply employed a strategy that I like to call "The Cinderella Effect" -- transforming a wicked stepsister into a princess at a ball with an easy wave of the wand and a few strokes of the keyboard.
For instance, in A Passion Most Pure, Collin McGuire is a drinking, womanizing rogue that most readers wanted to hate, but when I gave them a glimpse of his painful past, his tender heart, and his passion for family, they found themselves pulling for him instead. Okay, okay ... I know what you are thinking -- easy to do with a handsome and warmly passionate man, but what about a female who appears to be nothing more than a cold and manipulative flirt?
Also easy! I believe you can make ANY character more likable and relatable to the reader by implementing some or all of the points indicated below:
1.) SHOW THE CHARACTER'S COMPASSION. With Charity, I interjected a number of important scenes of compassion, but here are two examples:
Her tender relationship with her great-grandmother, which is witnessed by the hero in this scene, unbeknownst to Charity:
At eighty years old, Mima was little more than skin and bones, a tiny Dresden china doll with long, snowy hair fanned out across her pillow. Charity stood over her, sponging her pale, translucent cheek with a wet cloth, her voice soft and tender. "There you are, Mima, your skin is as glowing as a newborn babe's. How pretty you look! Now just a dab of color." Charity rubbed her finger across her own lips and applied a hint of blush to her great-grandmother's cheeks. Then she leaned back, hands on her hips. "Goodness, Mima, I'll bet if Great-Grandfather could see you now, he'd fall in love all over again."
Her defense of her best friend Emma:
"Speaking of Emma, how are things?"
Charity glimpsed up. Her smile faded into a frown. "Not good, but she refuses to leave."
The soft gray of Horatio's eyes darkened to pewter. "How can a woman stay with a monster like that?"
Charity forced herself to concentrate on folding the charcoal-colored morning coat. She blinked several times to dispel a sting of wetness in her eyes. "I don't know, Mr. Hargrove. She claims she loves him. Swears he didn't mean it. That it was the bottle and not 'her Rory' who threw the hot grease in her face." Charity shivered.
Mr. Hargrove placed a gnarled hand on top of hers. "She told me what you did, my dear. How you saved her job, threatening to quit if Emma lost hers."
Charity whirled around to scoop tobacco into a bag, heat flooding her cheeks. The sweet, rich scent of maple rum drifted in the air. "Goodness, Emma and I are a team, Mr. Hargrove. I can't keep this shop running by myself, you know."
"You're a good friend, Charity O'Connor. Putting your job on the line to save hers." He released a quiet sigh. "What a tragedy. One so young and lovely ... now so disfigured. I pray God watches over her."
2.) SHOW THE CHARACTER'S REMORSE:
She groaned and jolted up, suddenly noticing the clean counter where stacks of dishes should have been waiting. Guilt slithered within. Not only had she made a fool of herself with the man she loved, but she had disappointed her grandmother and Mima. Flitted off to do her own bidding, completely flaunting their wishes. And after Grandmother had slaved for hours to make a special Thanksgiving dinner just for her. Charity choked back a sob. She was a miserable creature. An ungrateful granddaughter and a selfish human being. She didn't deserve any man's love. Why would God even consider it?
3.) SHOW THE CHARACTER'S SENSE OF HUMOR:
Dooley nodded and fisted the bag in one hand and the peppermint stick in the other. His grin was ear to ear. "Thank you, Miss Charity. Me mum's right. You are an angel from above."
Charity chuckled as she walked him to the door. "There are some who would argue that point, Dooley. See you next week."
"Yes, ma'am. Good night."
Charity closed the door softly and flipped the bolt. Humming to herself, she strolled back to the register to record the cost of the bunting and peppermint stick on her personal charge. She glanced at the dirty burlap on the counter and sighed. She didn't have high hopes for the raisin bread, but she'd take it home nonetheless. The neighbor's dog seemed genuinely fond of it.
4.) SHOW THE CHARACTER'S PAINFUL PAST:
Charity dropped on the bed. A mix of anger and guilt shuddered through her like the chill of the room. She couldn't escape it. She'd betrayed her sister. Now regret shadowed her in shame, never allowing her to forget.
She grappled her fingers through her hair. If only she could be free. A clear conscience. A forgiven heart. The love of the man she longed for. Her fist trembled to her mouth as an involuntary cry escaped her lips. Oh, Faith, I'm sorry. When did I start hating you?
5.) SHOW OTHER CHARACTER'S POSITIVE PERCEPTION OF CHARACTER:
Charity. The very name inflicted a sharp ache in his heart. Sky blue eyes that teased and tempted, lips that were the curse of his resolve. A wounded little girl, stubborn and strong, defiant in her quest for love. And all the while, a sensual woman, resiliant to the core, fiercely devoted to those she opened her heart to. He drew in a deep breath to ward off the longing. No! He may love her and, yes, forgive her, and certainly pray for her, but he would never trust her. Not enough to make her his wife.
SO ... there you have it, just a few of the things I incorporated to help Charity win the reader's heart. Of course (grin), you won't know if I actually succeeded until you read the book, but until then, I would LOVE to hear from you! As a writer, what do YOU do to endear your characters to your readers? When a contest judge says a character is not likable, what have you added or changed in your copy? Go for it -- give me examples -- I would love to know!