Writers want our heroes and heroines to be likable so our readers will attach to them and root for them. We can give them all sorts of characters quirks like type-A personalities, neuroticism, perpetual clumsiness, etc., all treated in a lovable and forgivable way. But every once in a while, it’s fun to challenge ourselves with a heroine who may be tougher to like.
One of my favorite examples of an unlikable character carrying a book is Darcy in Emily Giffin’s Something Blue. We met Darcy in book one, Something Borrowed. (Remember the movie? Kate Hudson played Darcy.) Darcy is the obnoxious best friend in book one who always gets everything she wants, including the guy who Rachel (our lovable heroine) has feelings for. Book one ends with Darcy losing everything she held dear, so book two starts us out with Darcy pissed off, resentful, and downtrodden. She’s not at all the kind of girl I would ever typically see myself connecting with, but I did right from page one. It probably didn’t hurt that I’d read a couple of Ms. Giffin’s books and knew that I was in good hands with this author.
When I set out to write book one in my Before Forever series, I went with a heroine who was shy and awkward. We learn right in the first chapter that Chloe has been through a serious situation that is easy to sympathize with. She has a best friend who outshines her in every way possible, and a tense, almost cringe-worthy situation with her father. She’s sweet and polite, but not over–the–top precious. So out the gate, I set myself up for a likable and endearing heroine that the reader would hopefully want to root for. My job from that point was to not screw it up.
However, in book two, my challenge was much greater. Jenna Quigley, Chloe’s best friend, couldn’t be more opposite. Extrovert doesn’t begin to cover it. She’s confident, talented…just placed eighth on the fictional show America’s Newest Sensation (think The Voice or America’s Got Talent), and is ready to take on the world. She’s also a little self-absorbed, but fiercely loyal and encouraging to Chloe. I heard mixed reviews of what readers from book one thought about Jenna. Some loved her to pieces while she rubbed others the wrong way, which honestly, was the job of her character in that book. Chloe needed to break out of her shell, and I wanted to pair her with a best friend who would make her life uncomfortable to help her do that.
So my challenge with making Jenna a likable, relatable heroine of her own story was quite large. I had to show the reader that what Jenna portrays on the outside may not always reflect what’s going on in her head. Additionally, I wanted readers to see that life at home wasn’t always hearts and flowers for her, as one may think when they saw how close she was with her dad. I also needed to pair her with a hero who was going to constantly call her out on her crap and set her firmly in her place, helping her gain perspective and learn some things about herself by the time the book came to an end.
I had so much fun writing Jenna. She’s so opposite from me, so I was able to sort of try on a different personality in writing her. I would keep on writing her if someone would let me! But alas, there are different characters banging away at my brain, begging for their stories to come out.
Characters need flaws, because none of us are perfect. Seriously flawed characters need high arcs and plenty of time for redemption (which may be why this book ended up a little on the long side!). Sometimes the job of a polarizing character may be to get us out of our comfort zones. I know Jenna got me out of mine!
The second Jenna Quigley turns eighteen, she’s headed to L.A. to extend the timer on her fifteen minutes of fame. Too bad her dad made her promise to graduate high school first. Silver lining? Her new school has a serious talent competition with a $25,000 cash prize, which would go a long way in L.A. Jenna’s got plenty of talent—she didn’t almost win America’s Newest Sensation for nothing. But it’ll take everything she’s got to bring down the music nerd with a stick up his butt…no matter how cute he is in those glasses.
Miles Cleveland needs to win that talent contest. When some hot girl stole his audition spot on America’s Newest Sensation, his chance to study music flounced off to New York with her. Now, not only can he win enough money to pay for his education, he can get revenge on that very same girl. He can’t start to question his plan, though…no matter how deep Jenna buries into his heart.
Melissa Chambers writes contemporary novels for young, new, and actual adults. A Nashville native, she spends her days working in the music industry and her nights tapping away at her keyboard. While she’s slightly obsessed with alt rock, she leaves the guitar playing to her husband and kid. She never misses a chance to play a tennis match, listen to an audiobook, or eat a bowl of ice cream. (Rocky road, please!) She’s a member of RWA and serves as the president elect for the Music City Romance Writers. She is the author of The Summer Before Forever and Falling for Forever (Entangled Teen).
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