Creating A Leading Character

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By Patricia L. Stebelton

“You don’t like my heroine? Why not?”

I was stunned and more than a little insulted when one of my ‘readers’ (invaluable people who read and edit stories before they are submitted) told me this. After I’d spent months of writing my latest novel, she told me that readers would find it hard to relate to my leading lady—they wouldn’t feel any empathy for her difficulties or desires. Basically, this ‘reader’ found herself not caring if my heroine succeeded in the story or didn’t. She didn’t like her! Big sigh . . . I had to give my leading woman a ‘makeover’ from the inside out!

CHARACTER REVIEW

Julie glided across the crowded fairgrounds, her heart pounding so hard she couldn’t hear her own thoughts. It was the day the stunning brunette had prayed about for two years. Dan had called. The only man she’d ever wanted was waiting for her at the grandstands with a planned surprise. It could mean only one thing—a ring on her finger. Her face was flushed with anticipation. Julie knew she was breaking her promise to help her sister at the Kiwanis booth, but Angie would find someone else. She’d get over it—she always did. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Julie.

Dan turned; he’d seen her coming. She flashed him her biggest smile and ignored Janie’s wave from the bake sale tent. Julie could never let Dan know that Janie was her friend. His family was well-to-do and affluent. If she became his wife, she’d have to find new friends. Slowing her steps, Julie frowned. Dan had brought his dog with him again. She hated pet hair on her clothing. That animal would be the first thing she’d eliminate when they were married, but for now she’d pretend that she liked the beast. Running her tongue over her full lips, she fluffed her hair and hastened to Dan’s arms . . . and her perfect life. (music fade out)
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Would you vote for Julie as a role model or even rush to make her your closest friend . . .? Maybe if Julie had stopped to speak with her sister at the Kiwanis booth or felt some remorse that she was ‘brushing her off’ . . . Perhaps Julie could have a moment of regret about her friend, Janie—struggling with keeping her old friends while shedding her former poverty and desperately wanting to fit in with her prospective husband’s affluent group . . . Then you, the reader, could struggle with her. Julie needs one redeeming quality! Maybe she could keep Dan’s dog and allow him to sleep in the hallway . . . ?

Many leading characters in movies and books these days are known for their flawed traits, but we have to give our readers hope for change—a reason to root for this character when life seemingly turns against them.

Although God can do surprising things in peoples’ lives, readers look for a way to relate to the main character in a story. When I recall Jonah of the Old Testament, I always smile. The Ninevites had acted so rotten that Jonah didn’t want to give them an opportunity to repent! He knew God would forgive them, and Jonah didn’t think they deserved it. That may not have been the right attitude, but unfortunately it’s human nature more often than not . . . Show a little tenderness and loyalty in your hero or leading lady—give readers hope for improvement in their future. Our leading characters have to have more going for them than strong shoulders or a pretty face . . . give them heart and a soul!

Patricia L. Stebelton: author of six Romantic Suspense Mysteries through Oaktara Publishing/Amazon.com/Barnesandnoble.com

Short stories in compiled books “Whispering in God’s Ear”, “Angeles, Miracles & Heavenly Encounters 1”, and “Falling in Love With You” as well as stories in Guidepost Book stories and a devotional in “Love is A Verb”, Gary Chapman & James Stuart Bell.   Patricia and her husband live in a picturesque town in the heart of Michigan. Patricia enjoys family activities, her writing and commissioned art projects.