What Makes Lead Characters Compelling?

It’s a question writers never stop asking themselves, and it’s a question that I think readers don’t consider: they just know. They are either drawn to them or they aren’t.

I’m currently building the lives of several characters but primarily a lead female protagonist and her potential love interest, a male. Ultimately, I want readers to root for these characters, I want them to wish they could take them out to lunch or go to a movie with them. I want them to fall in love with them.

And interestingly, I am finding that the most difficult thing is painting a picture that feels real and honest while also creating the complexities of a character so that they are worthy enough of the reader’s love but still human enough to make mistakes and disappoint them, too. After all, who has a best friend or lover who doesn’t disappoint at least some of the time? Besides,  many of us set unfair or unrealistic expectations in the first place! So I find it’s a fine line to walk, and since I can’t walk a straight line when I’m sober or traverse a balance beam without plummeting to the ground, it hasn’t always been easy but it is my personal mission.

I completely realize that some authors couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you like their lead character and in fact, may not care either way or instead may want you to totally despise the character. But as for me, no, I want you to discover things you love about each of those characters the further you delve into their stories as they unfold.

hOne observation I’ve made and recently touched on in a GoodReads book review of J. Redmerski’s Edge of Never was that I’ve noticed in the genres that I’ve been exploring recently (namely, contemporary romance and erotica), I am finding myself much more engrossed in the background, dialogue and livelihood of the male protagonists far more often than the female protagonist, most of which are the leads in these stories quite often. Sure, people care about Anastasia Steele but it is the potential casting of Christian Grey that has led to a social media melee of sorts. I truly believe we may have to put some women “on watch” when that much-anticipated casting news is announced, because I do believe the “wrong choice” in their eyes could send some readers over the edge. It won’t be a wrong Ana but a wrong Christian that will do that.

As I pointed out in my review where I bring up this subject, there are some authors who simply know how to build complex, fascinating characters regardless of gender – I name Colleen Hoover (Slammed, Point of Retreat, Hopeless) and Rebecca Donovan (Barely Breathing, Reason to Breathe), specifically, and add Redmerski to the list based upon my one and only read so far.

It’s so important to me that my readers want to hear what “she” says – in this case, Cate – as much as what “he” says, and that would be Oliver. (You’ll meet him soon, too.) I am going to confess something right here, and if you’re reading this and have experienced the very same thing, will you do me a favor: will you admit to it, too? Because I have to know that I’m not alone here. Sometimes…not always but sometimes, I am so smitten and carried away with the male lead and so underwhelmed by the female lead that I catch myself racing through “her” parts of the story that don’t involve my “book boyfriend” to accelerate the pace of the read so I can get back to the words and antics of said studly fellow.

Am I alone in this affliction? Again, it is not always and I’d prefer not to say which books because I fear the wrath of their loyal fans, but I have had this happen to me with at least three major series, two of them, long-time chart-topping series, in fact. Frankly, I’m not even sure that I like the woman I’m supposed to be rooting for in these books but the men positively intrigue the hell out of me (and for some readers who use Pinterest to enthusiastically share quite provocative photos of actors and models who they envision in these roles, these men clearly “rock their world,” too).

But the afternoon’s rolling away from me, and I must return to my own book-in-progress. I’d love to hear your thoughts as readers and authors, for those who care to comment, on not only what makes a character compelling to you but also any of your own observations in the romance/erotica genre. Do you too see a growing trend toward building what may perhaps be viewed as more intriguing and engrossing male protagonists than female leads? I’m curious to read your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

ck

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1 Comment

  1. I want my characters to be people the readers either identify with or absolutely loathe while at the same time they are fascinated by them. Think of Hannibal Lecter. Or (shudder) Anton Chigurh.
    We can’t look away.

    I am guilty of skimming through lackluster descriptions and dialogue of either hero or heroine, but I am more likely to do it with a female character. I get women, y’know? I are one. LOL


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