Recently I’ve stumbled upon several reviews that all point out a similar problem within fiction. The common line is, “I liked the story, but I couldn’t connect with the characters.” Have you ever had that happen? It’s a problem for both the reader and the writer.
As I writer, there are few things more frustrating than having someone hand a manuscript back with the words, “I just didn’t connect with the main character,” but the experience has helped me understand what works and what doesn’t.
The funniest thing I’ve discovered is the differences between heroes and heroines. For instance, when I write an anti-hero (either a guy with a bad attitude or a full on bad boy), people generally accept him, find his flaws amusing, and cheer on his redemption. Anti-heroines, on the other hand, get rejected as “annoying.” :P I’ve noticed this both with my fiction and several well established authors. Heroines are generally judged harder than heroes. So, I try to stick to more sympathetic female leads.
Of course, there is always a certain amount of personal preference that comes into the equation. Some people like outgoing, brave heroines and some people like ordinary-girl types. I’ve written both and find they each have their merits, though, as of late, I prefer writing the ordinary-girl type. There are risks taken within the “good girl” zone too. I love to work with characters that have deep weaknesses and throughout the story overcome them, but sometimes stronger-willed or outgoing people just won’t connect. Sometimes I feel like saying, “Can you at least try to understand people who are different from you?!” ;)
As a reader, I personally like a wide variety of characters. I love the selfless wall flowers like Fanny Price as much as the witty and brash Elizabeth Bennet. (Both Jane Austen characters, btw ;)
The only ones I don’t like are the “Super Girls.” You know the type. The writer begins to set the character up as a normal girl…then suddenly has to add she’s got a masters degree, spent two years on a mission field, exercises regularly, snacks on celery, never has chocolate cravings, and, oh yeah, speaks multiple languages. A lot of times these things don’t really have much to do with the story. It’s like the writer just feels a girl can’t be a hero if she doesn’t have tons of credential behind her. That’s about the time I disconnect.
So, what about you? What types of characters do you connect with? Is there something in particular that keeps you from connecting with a character? If you’re a writer, is there a type you like to work with?