The Good and the Bad in an Emotionally Engaging Character

I just finished writing The Viscount’s Runaway Bride, and while writing it, I learned something new about writing the emotionally engaging character, which I’ll share with you in this post.

good-and-bad-in-a-character

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People Have Flaws

And characters should be no different.  Now, I know right away that a flawed character will earn criticism from some readers, but guess what: every single person has a weakness.  These weaknesses, when used to enhance the plot, can make the characters three-dimensional, and three-dimensional characters are relatable.  They are real.  We might not like everything about them, but they come across as authentic.

For example, my hero acted before thinking in a certain matter, and he’s easily manipulated.  Those are two huge flaws.  In real life, however, don’t we all know someone that has a tendency to make decisions before thinking them through?  We might even consider such a person “impulsive” and “stupid”.  We might consider a person who is easily manipulated to be “spineless” and “in need of a brain”.

Another example, the villainess in my book is the manipulator, but only because she honestly thinks she is doing what’s best for the hero.  She is well aware of his flaw to being too naive for his own good.  (In other words, she sees how “impulsive and stupid” he can be in certain situations, and what she’s trying to do is help him make the right decisions.)  But her flaw is that she wants to control him.  I’m sure you can think of someone in your life who has a tendency to be bossy because they think they know what’s best for you or someone you know.

My point to all of this is that characters, even our heroes, can be more realistic if they aren’t perfect.

People also have strengths.

Characters should have strengths, too, and those strengths can help provide a balance to their weaknesses.  In fact, I think a story is even stronger if one character is strong in an area where the other character is weak.  You get those two together, and they provide an excellent balance.

For example, let’s say you have a character who excels at resolving conflict.  I’m sure we can think of someone who is good at this kind of thing in real life.  This is the person with a cool head who seems to know the right thing to say at the right time.  This character is a peacemaker and can soothe over things for the other characters in your story.

Another example, let’s say you have a character who is a good judge of people.  In real life, we might know someone who seems to have a gut instinct about other people.  This person can’t often explain how they know whether someone can be trusted or not until after that person does something that makes us think, “Wow, that person was right!  I can’t believe it.” This type of character can be used in a story to foreshadow future events in a story.  The character doesn’t necessarily have to point out the “danger” another character presents, but the character can warn others of a situation or event that is going to happen.  (For example, I’m thinking of a movie where a character warns others of a catastrophic natural disaster.)  This character can cue the reader into something that becomes important later in the story.

No One is 100% Bad or Good

This ties into what I said above about strengths and weaknesses.  Characters, even a hero, can do something wrong.  The hero, of course, will redeem him/herself.  The hero won’t stay stuck in that wrong statement/action.  Sometimes I think a story can be more powerful if the hero makes some tragic error in the middle of the story that makes the reader think, “Oh no!  How will he/she ever recover from this?”

When I was in the 8th grade, there was a book I read where I started to panic over a decision the character made.  I got sick to my stomach because I couldn’t see a way that things could be satisfactorily resolved.  I looked up from the book and remembered that it was fiction.  At that point, I was able to relax.  But see what happened?  I was so engaged with this character that I was right there with that character in the middle of that horrible moment.  Obviously, this tactic won’t be used in every story you write.  You would end up with stories that all seem the same. But this is one tool that can be used in storytelling.

Another thing you can do with a hero is take advantage of the weakness.  We all have areas where we’re more likely to fail.  This can cover a wide range of things.  In the case of the hero that is easily manipulated, the hero can be convinced to make the wrong decision by another character’s influence.

The villain, however, might stay stuck in it.  Not all villains are the same, nor should they be.  Just because your character is a villain, it doesn’t mean that character has to be all bad. Now, the character might be irredeemable.  There might be no way you can make the character likable.  But even a drop down dirty character can be right about something.  For example, the villain might accurately point out the hero’s weakness.

I actually find a villain who has a sympathetic angle to be the most interesting characters in a story.  A villain can be overtly bad in the beginning of a story, but as the story progresses, the villain shows something good, it can be a game changer in how the reader responds to that character.  Suddenly, the character isn’t as awful as originally thought.  Personally, I love villains like this because they aren’t cardboard cutout characters of what you would normally expect.

Bottom Line

Utilize these strengths and weaknesses to enhance your story as it advances the plot.  Focus in on those traits that directly impact the story.  Doing so will also add to the depth of the character.

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More Updates

The Viscount’s Runaway Bride is off to my editing team

(This is Book 1 in the Marriage by Bargain Series.)

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I finally finished up with my initial edits yesterday and emailed the editors and beta readers on my team.  I’m not sure when the new release date will be yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.  Right now we’re looking at either very late October to the first part of November.

Groom For Hire has been pushed back to February 12 for a release date

(This is Book 3 in the Pioneer Series.)

Groom for Hire

Long story short, when I started this book in July, my husband was like, “When are we going on a vacation?” I had been writing all summer long, so I thought he had a good point.  So I took most of August off to spend time with the family.

Then when school started back up, I got back to this story and realized if I wanted to get this out by December 18, I would have to make it a shorter story than I originally intended.  (And I’m pretty sure you guys would prefer the story to be longer than a novella.)

After much debate and talking to my publisher (because this one is going to be with Parchment & Plume), the date’s been pushed back to February 12.

The Bargain Mail Order Bride is still on track for January 7

(This is Book 4 in the Chance at Love Series.)

The_Bargain_Mail_Order_Bride_new version

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Another reason I pushed the date back on Groom For Hire is because I want to make sure I can get this book out on time.  There is no pre-order already set up for Groom For Hire, so no one has pre-ordered it.  The Bargain Mail Order Bride, however, is up on pre-order, and I want to make sure I get it out to the people who already pre-ordered it on time.

I’ll start The Rake’s Vow this week

(This is Book 2 in the Marriage by Bargain Series.)

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In addition to getting back to Groom For Hire and The Bargain Mail Order Bride, I am going to start on this book.  This book follows The Viscount’s Runaway Bride.

I’ll be uploading this book directly to Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, so the pre-order is only available at iBooks right now.

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On a final note, I know some of you have sent me an email.  At the moment, I have about 100 emails waiting for me to answer.  Please be patient with me.  I will get to them as soon as I can.  I’m not ignoring anyone.  I took time off from emails for the last two weeks to finish up The Viscount’s Runaway Bride and then edit it.  I’ll be tackling my inbox this weekend.

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Updates On What I’m Working On

The Viscount’s Runaway Bride (Marriage by Bargain: Book 1)

20160607_The_Viscounts_Runaway_Bride

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I’m almost done with this one.  I did have a hold up for the past two weeks because I wasn’t sure how to wrap it up.   I had to do some revising of several scenes and insert two additional chapters about 3/4 of the way into it.

Without spoiling the book, part of the goal for this series is to turn two very unlikable ladies you met in The Earl’s Wallflower Bride into heroines worth rooting for.  If you remember Miss Celia Barlow and Miss Loretta Bachman (the two who gave Iris a difficult time), then you know this isn’t going to be an easy task.  I have to introduce them in this book as spoiled, selfish, and condescending because that was how they were in The Earl’s Wallflower Bride.  Part of my goal is to change them, and in order to do that, I had to bring them into this one enough so the stage can be set for their books.

Loretta will be the heroine in Book 2, and Celia will be the heroine in Book 3.

For those who have been asking for Candace (Lady Hedwrett from Her Counterfeit Husband) to get her happy ending, I’m happy to say that she’ll be the heroine in Book 4.

I would like to have this book out at the end of October, but it might not be out until the first part of November.  Being that this is a pre-order, I have to have the finished version uploaded to the retailers about two weeks in advance.  So we’ll see how things play out.

Groom For Hire (Pioneer Series: Book 3)

Groom for Hire

This is currently not on pre-order, but my goal is December 18 for a release date.  To do that, it needs to be with my publisher no later than December 1.  I think I’m around the halfway point right now in this story.  I might be more like 40% of the way in.  At any rate, I was surprised to learn the heroine had an immediate attraction to our hero Joe Otto, who was nursing a broken heart after Amanda married Richard (if you’ll recall from Wagon Trail Bride).

I decided to be a stinker and let the heroine in this story look a lot like Amanda.  I know, I know.  It was mean to do.  But it felt right for the story, so I went with it.  And yes, this makes Joe want to stay as far from her as possible because all she does is remind him of what he couldn’t have.  So the initial conflict was set up, but that could only be sustained for so long before it gets boring.

Fortunately, this week the heroine decided to take things up a notch and challenge Joe on his assumption that just because she’s a woman she can’t handle doing tasks that typically go to men (such as helping keep the lookout during the night or participating in hunting for food).  Some of the retorts she throws at him makes me chuckle.  (She might look like Amanda, but she’s nothing like her.)  At the moment, she’s annoying Joe to no end.  Good stuff!  I love to see sparks fly.

The Bargain Mail Order Bride (Chance at Love Series: Book 4)

The_Bargain_Mail_Order_Bride_new version

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I haven’t done much in this book for the past two weeks.  I’ve been focused on getting The Viscount’s Runaway Bride worked out and forcing Joe to deal with the heroine in Groom For Hire (since he would have ignored her for the entire book if I let him).  That left me know time to work in this book.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in this book.  The truth is, I’ve been excited about this book ever since I finished The Convenient Mail Order Bride, which was released in February.  I’ve had to write the other books in the series before I could get to this one, and with that in mind, I worked on setting things up so we can transition Carl Richie from bad guy to hero.

I also had to get rid of his wife, Lydia.  Lydia was not redeemable at all.  There was too much bitterness in her.  She had been forced to marry him, and she never got the kind of life she thought she deserved.  As a result, she blamed him for everything, and over the years, it removed anything good that had once been inside of her.  I am a firm believer that tough times will either make people better or bitter, and in her case, it ultimately destroyed her.

She had managed to cause significant emotional damage to Carl, which I am excited about exploring during the course of this book.  I could only give a glimpse of how severely damaged he is in the other books.  He really feels like he has no one in his life that cares about him, and the only thing that keeps him going is the dream of getting that gold so he can get away from the town and all the bad things associated with it.  His thinking is that if he can only have money, he’ll be happy.  (This is a false belief, of course.  Money itself does not create happiness, and he’ll learn this by the end of the book.)  But it will take having someone who is willing to give him a fair chance in order to be open enough to learn this very important lesson.  This someone, of course, will be the heroine of this book.

Most interesting to me is how sexually damaged he is.  We don’t often think of men as being damaged in this way.  We typically think of women who are.  But as I writing the wedding night in this book, I realized just how broken he really is, and the process that he’ll need to go through in order to heal is particularly intriguing to me because it’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced as a writer.

Sex isn’t just sex.  At least not in my books.  I have a purpose for every single sex scene I add to the story.  There are so many layers to it.  So much is going on emotionally between the characters during the scene where they make love.  Sometimes the character learns something new about him/herself.  Sometimes the character learns something about the husband/wife.  But there is always something the character learns during the act that the character can’t learn any other way.  In this book, I actually cried when Carl forced himself to consummate the marriage.  Carl got absolutely no enjoyment from the process because Lydia had robbed that for him by the way she treated him in, and out, of the bedroom.  I would never have known just how bad off he was had it not been for that scene.

I learn things during the sex scenes I write that I didn’t know about the character before.  There’s always the “aha!” moment, and I believe it makes the story richer and deeper, and the character is more real because of it.  I understand not everyone views sex scenes the same way I do, but I don’t see a sex scene as a means to erotically entice the reader.  I see it as a way to convey something new about the character’s emotional development within him/herself or with the hero/heroine that I can’t show any other way.

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Okay. I’ve rambled on long enough.  As you can probably tell, I’m super excited about these books.  Every time I sit down to write, I feel like a kid on Christmas day just waiting to unwrap the present to find out what’s inside the box because I never know what the characters will do until I’m writing.

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