Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How do I love thee, let me count the ways.

I've been doing NaNoWriMo this month. At the same time, I've been polishing a submission for a full request by an agent I simply adore. The combination of creation and polishing has me thinking about what makes us love characters.
First, I'm going to ask you to do a little work. Grab a pen and paper . . . Come on, I'll wait . . . Got it? Good. Now write down the ten things you love most about your best friend, and the ten things you love about your significant other (maybe even do the same for your hero and heroine, if you're a writer) and hold on to it while you read this post.

I've done some research and come up with some common things people say they love about their best friends, and some things they love about their significant other. I asked friends, family, and fellow writers to make the same lists you have before you, and I went through them looking for common denominators. I hope you enjoy these lists, and they get you thinking about what makes you love a character--and perhaps about what will make others love the characters you write.

Best friends

Wiki Commons Author = Gideon from Paris, France
1 - Inside jokes. The inside jokes seemed to be especially important to the people I polled, and in the research I did.

What this means for the writer
I think it's important for showing length of friendship, and giving that sense of intimacy. Running gags are great for creating inside jokes between the reader and the main character.
For example, we pre-establish that the heroine has had donuts every time she's been dumped in he life. She avoids donut shops like the plague, particularly because this relationship is going really well. They have a small fight and the hero shows with a box of donuts to apologize. The heroine groans, and the reader groans (and laughs) along because they feel like they are a part of the joke.

2 - Friendly teasing - Where friends are concerned, it seems everyone loves to tease and be teased.

What this means for the writer 
The fun banter between your main and secondary character is important for showing the depth of the relationship. People don't tease each other unless they know each other well. Unless one is bullying the other, which is not what we're looking for in a best friend. This is wonderful for turning the best friend into an antagonist and galvanizing the hero/heroine into action without losing the likability of the friend.

For example - In your contemporary romance, your heroine might be having a hard time getting up the courage to flirt with the hero. Her best friend might tease her about becoming the crazy cat lady in order to get the heroine to try.

3- Funny - Funniness is another attribute that was mentioned in almost every top 10 list I garnered, in one way or another. 

What this means for the writer People like and respect humor. It's a coveted ability. No matter if it's wit, outrageous humor, or sarcasm, etc . . . Each is appreciated in it's own way.

For example The examples here can vary from the mild humor of a cute meet in a romantic comedy--like when the heroine is about to put her last dollar bill into an outdoor vending machine, and the wind takes it, right to the hero.--to more obvious comedy--like the hero's pants splitting when he bends to retrieve the dollar. oops

4-  Things in common - Most people want to have things in common with their best friend.

What this means for the writer 
This is another way to add intimacy to the friendship. Obviously, best friends should have things to talk about that make them both excited, and when they do, it is easy to insert inside jokes.

For example The hero and his best friend both para-sail, and that's how they met years earlier. Or the heroine and her best friend are both ophthalmologists, and they work together in the same office.

5- Emotional support- This was another universal. Everyone wants some support sometimes, but it has to be two sided. One sided support alienates the side that isn't getting the support.

What this means for the writer - Showing emotional support is a great way to show your hero's good side. If he's supportive of his friend, even when it might cause him trouble, it will make the reader respect him.
For example - The hero has been waiting for the big game for a long time. He's pre-purchased the tickets. He's ecstatically excited to go. Then he gets a call that a friend's father died. the friend isn't asking for his company, but he gives away the tickets, gets a six-pack and a pizza, and heads to his friend's house to watch the game with him on TV and talk about how great his father was. 

My Thoughts-
After looking at all the different reasons people gave me in their top 10 lists, I found that most fit in one of these five categories. Then it was easy to see how all these attributes could connect to make a great friendship that would help the reader better like, understand, and appreciate my hero/heroine.



The Gallant Shepherd - 1738 Fran├žois Boucher
1- Attractiveness - This is a given, but the details vary. Very few said their lover was gorgeous. Most said nice eyes, butt, smile, etc.

What this means for the writer
It's less about the whole package than the little details. Let's face it, only one woman is married to Channing Tatum, so there can only be one woman married to People's current "sexiest man alive." And most of us don't look as good as she does either. Real life is full of real people, but everyone is beautiful in their own way. And don't be short-sighted in thinking the only sexy things on a man/woman are the conventional butt, jaw, chest, etc...
Find that beauty in the little things.

For example Perhaps your heroine finds the heroes strong hands sexy, or the hero loves the heroine's chin dimple. In a work in progress, I have a heroine with a gap between her teeth that the hero finds sexy. (Just look at Lauren Hutton if you're shaking your head.)

2- Special talents - It seems people appreciate the special things about each other. These vary person to person, but the idea is my boyfriend/girlfriend is really good at ______.

What this means for the writer 
Your hero and heroine should have special talents that the other admires. This accomplishes two things. First, it establishes a reason for the hero and heroine to see each other as more than a body. Second, it can be a good source of conflict. And third, it gives the reader another reason to identify with your character.

For example Perhaps the hero loves cookies and the heroine owns a bakery with the best chocolate chip cookies in the area. If you want to use this to create tension, the hero might have opened a competitive one-stop cookie shop around the corner, or could be the mogul inventor of the one minute chocolate chip cookie maker that is stealing her business.

3- Not perfect, but perfect for them - "You complete me" is not just a Jerry McGuire line, apparently, it's a reality. People love the idea of completion, it seems.

What this means for the writer-
Make sure your hero and heroine fill a hole in each other. Each should have some distinct need the other fills in order to make their relationship have a deeper meaning that goes beyond common interests and the physical. This might be something only the hero sees in the heroine, but it should be there.
For example - The heroine might be overly serious. She can't let loose. Give her a hero who loves fun and acts like a kid. He can help her relax, and she can make him a bit more responsible so they even each other out.

4- love & trust - These were listed in some manner. Some people say honest, some caring, some loving, some trustworthy, but they all break down into two basic components that are needed for a good lover.

What this means for the writer
The hero can let the heroine down, but he must show that, no matter what happens, he's there for her in a real way. In order for us to believe the relationship between h/h, we have to buy that they trust and love each other, even when they might not know it. 
For example You might show this in a small way, like the heroine reaches for the heroes hand in an emergency without thinking. This would show that she finds him trustworthy, even if a moment before, she told him she couldn't ever trust him. Another would be that the hero puts a shoulder between the heroine and oncoming danger, showing that he is trustworthy, and that even if he doesn't love her yet, he cares for her enough to protect her with his body.

5- Sees the real you and doesn't care/loves what he sees - This seemed to be on nearly every list in some way as well.

What this means for the writer 
Using this can help the reader see an even better reason why the hero and heroine are soul mates. The reader can see how the h/h see things in each other the other might not even see themselves, and that fact connects the h/h down deep.
For example As with Beauty and the Beast, if the world is afraid of your hero because he's huge and scarred, the heroine won't fear him. She'll see the hurt and intelligent man beneath the gruff exterior. If you heroine uses sarcasm to scare people away, your hero will see through it--and likely call her on it.

My Thoughts - 
I think this list made sense as well. We want a lover we can trust and respect, and we want to know they trust and respect us too. Plus, of course, we want to be attracted to them.


Pull out that list I had you write. Oh, you'd forgotten about that, hadn't you? Get it out and see how your list fits my research. I'd be willing to bet your top ten, or many if not all of the items on your top ten will fit into my lists.

Friend - Inside jokes, friendly teasing, funny, things in common, emotional support
Lover -  Attractiveness, special talents, perfect for them, love and trust, sees and loves real you.

What makes you love a character? How did your list stack up? I'd love to hear what you thought of the ideas I present in this blog.


  1. Great blog post, Robin! The examples you created really helped clarify how those traits could be shown. I've shared the post on my writer's loop and tweeted it!

  2. Thank you Lana! I appreciate your comment, and I'm glad you found it useful, and I'm grateful you shared. Hope you're enjoying the holidays. :)