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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KuhnStories 2013…A Sneak Peek!

2013…it’s tomorrow.

Jeesh!

Already?

Woohoo!

I’ve never been good at keeping quiet about things, so why bother now? I thought I’d leak out a day early that starting tomorrow, my blog will be turning its own page.

For the past few years, I’ve used this blog as a creative canvas, sharing thought-provoking (I hope) questions to encourage you to journal and painting imaginative scenarios and serious poking to both myself and to others to get out and try new things.

It was here on this blog that I dared to show my own stab at oil, watercolor and acrylic painting (and it wasn’t always pretty but certainly well-intentioned).

It was here that I showed my ass (not literally, thankfully) and held my own Cocktail-a-thon to add a few popular drinks to my portfolio as part of a special New Year’s Eve edition of Five to Try and even filmed it…what was I nuts? Probably. Certainly a little toasted by the end of the night, but I’ll do what I must for my craft! Sigh. <Read: merry martyr here with a maroschino cherry, please and thank you!>

It was here that I showcased a whole year in photos with a picture a day (now that was a really fun project)…

FarewellPhoto

And it was here that I tackled my most ambitious and difficult task yet – writing one paragraph a day of a short story and posting it online, building it incrementally. A time travel mystery. The final creation will not win any awards but the journey was a hoot, and I at least had the common sense to end it earlier in the year instead of dragging it out all 365 days. Mercy kill? Perhaps. But I’d like to think of it as maturity and good instincts. Yeah, I like the sound of that better.

So now I move into 2013. What do I do next?

Easy.

I paint a picture of all that I truly care about these days and that is… words. And sentences. And paragraphs. And pages. And chapters. And oh yeah, that’s right, those longer things…books. Books, books and more books. Lots of them. Books I love to read. Authors I love to read about. Fellow readers I enjoy chatting with on Twitter and Facebook. And now, best of all, the latest characters I’ve now fallen in love with — my characters in my first novel that I’ve been working on for the past 4+ months and hopefully, in about six months or so, when I am so determined to have my book finished and self-published, you will, too.

KuhnStories is going to be about what it was designed to be about all along… words and the wonderful stories they can tell within the right hands. Starting tomorrow, this blog will be about celebrating some of my favorite authors I follow, important info about the books they are writing as well as a journal to record my own journey as I continue tackling the next little-more-than-half of my book to go.

I’ll tell you more about these characters and my story, as well as my lessons learned as I embark on the steps along the way to write it. If you are a book blogger, I welcome your thoughts and wisdom, and absolutely your support. If you are an avid reader of many of the same favorite authors and books that you’ll see me writing about, I hope that you’ll leave a comment or even email me at ckuhntampabay@gmail.com to tell me what you think. If you are a published author and want to impart any wisdom or advice, I certainly welcome that, too. (And if you are one of the authors I often gush about, well, you’ll have to excuse me if I drool a little in response…) 

Cheers to you, all of you who have read even just one blog this year. I thank you for your interest and time. And if you read me once a week, embraced me like a healthy habit or decadent, sinful vice, well, I humbly thank you for your support, too. You have no idea what it means to me. And lo and behold, there are a few of you who have been following my blogs since my days at skirt! magazine several years ago, and to you, I beam up a warm virtual hug your way, my deepest appreciation and extended hand to join me on my next adventures in publishing. I’d love you there beside me to celebrate.

So long, 2012, and hello, 2013… clink!

ck
Chris Kuhn