Before You Submit: Likeable Characters

Do you have a draft of your novel or short story and are thinking of submitting to an agent, publisher or writing contest?

This is a scary prospect, right? Ignore the night demon who tells you to hide your work in a drawer and prepare your story for submission. Besides signing an agent, getting your work published, or winning a contest, there are other benefits to submitting.

Submitting your work is a great way to get feedback from a professional in the industry. We all know this is hard to get, but if you’re lucky, valuable pieces of advice will end up in your inbox.

There are contests, the Debut Dagger hosted by The Crime Writers’ Association is one of them, that will provide feedback on your entry if you are short listed. There are also agents, who when queried, will give you feedback. You might even get comments back from a publisher or editor.

I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve learned this last year from people in the industry.

The week I’ll talk about liking the main protagonist.

Many writing books declare the reader must like your main character. This doesn’t mean everything about your character should be likeable. No one likes a perfect person. On the flip side, even if your character is nasty, is there at least one characteristic your reader can relate to, like or admire? If not, you might create something.

In a novel, giving your reader someone to cheer for and follow for 300 or so pages might make the difference between the reader dropping your book on the coffee table after chapter one to staying awake late into the night reading until the climax satisfies their need to know what happened to the character.

When I started writing, I struggled with how to make a character likeable. Thinking about what made me like people in real life was difficult to translate into the pages of a novel. How was I to get a reader to like my character?

The Crime Writers’ Association honoured me by shortlisting my novel, Burnt. The comment I received from one Debut Dagger judge on the topic of likeable characters was:

“The thread with the dog is a clever way of engaging interest and building suspense right from the start, while telling the reader something appealing about Kalin.”

Kalin is the main protagonist in Burnt.  In the opening scene, on the run and separated from her dog in a forest fire, Kalin fights for her life. The suspense part: Will she be able to save herself and her dog?  The likeable part: Her concern for her dog.

What I learned from this comment: The actions of your characters can show the reader a likeable trait. There is no need to describe the trait by telling the reader Kalin cares about animals.

I hope this helps you review your draft and get it ready for submission. In the coming months, I’ll post a series on what I’ve learned from the mysterious publishing industry.

Thanks for reading . . .

Click here for a look at my proofreading and copyediting series.


22 thoughts on “Before You Submit: Likeable Characters

  1. While I agree that likeable characters are great, but I have read some brilliant books about totally awful characters. They care for no one and are terribly selfish but there is something interesting about a nasty character!



  2. I almost hate to admit it, but some of the best characters I’ve written have more nasty traits than good ones. The trick is, give them just enough kindness to make a healthy contrast between light and dark..


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