Thursday, 14 October 2010

First Impressions

I started reading a new book last night, and already I dislike the main character. She goes to meet her boyfriend wearing the earrings he gave her for her birthday. They're silver; she'd hinted she preferred gold, but got silver. I'm guessing this was included as a not very subtle sign from the author that they're essentially not suited to each other, but it completely put me off the main character.


She and her boyfriend have only been together a few months. Her birthday came shortly after they met. I'm sorry, but I reckon hinting you want gold earrings at this stage is not a good character trait, and I don't like the way she's mentally complaining because she got silver. Later in the scene she's got to go to Norfolk for work, and wants him to join her for the weekend and meet her family. He finds an excuse not to come. She notes that he's turned down several opportunities to meet her family, also, he hasn't invited her to meet his. At this point my eyes are wide - meeting families? After a few months? It's one thing if it happens naturally eg the family in question lives near, you see them regularly, but making a formal visit...Pushy, or what?

And now, because I dislike her, I'm clocking up other reasons for dislike; the way she persistently snipes behind his back about a male colleague who is trying v hard (too hard in her opinion) to bring some work into the business; her smugness at being financially secure and the way she patronises her disabled, struggling-financially sister. Later, she goes onto what is clearly marked as private land and is outraged that people are out shooting. I'm afraid I wished she'd get hit, but no such luck.

First impressions count both in fiction and in real life, and it's very hard to recover from a bad start. Make a list of the characteristics you find attractive in people, and one for unattractive. Your main character should display a lot from the first list in the opening chapters. And if they do have some of the less desirable qualities, a bit of self awareness goes a long way. "She knew she should think herself lucky to have a boyfriend who bought her such a lovely present, and she did. It was just a shame that the earrings didn't suit her. Still, it was the thought that counted, and she wore them even though she knew they did nothing for her."

Well, that's how I'd have done it. Now, for all I know, the author may be setting her up as a character who is going to have to make some changes to her attitudes, but it seems a risky way of going about it - if I was reading this solely for pleasure I would have abandoned the book by now. And if this was a first novel, it would have been a doubly risky strategy.

Get a friend to read the opening chapter and ask them to make a list of adjectives to describe the main character(s). Re-write if there's any word on that list like smug, patronising, spiteful, mean, jobsworth... You may not have intended your character to be like that, but if that's the way they're coming across, then you will need to change it. And if you intended your character to be like that? All I can say is risky, risky, risky - and good luck!


badas2010 said...

Thanks for that advice Sarah- I'm going to review all my stuff pronto.

Sarah Duncan said...

Think it's worthwhile checking how characters are coming across; it's not always how you want/expect them to...