K is for Killer Instinct

I’ve been trying to wrap a lot of my blogfest entries around to writing, and it took me a while to think of something that I could write about the letter K, but then it hit me.

You see, I have a secret fear when it comes to my writing… that fear being that I just don’t have the killer instinct required to be great. Villains are hard for me to write, because they involve motives that don’t always make sense to me (in an emotional way, not in a logical way). And then my other characters, my non-villains? Well… I like them. I like them too much, maybe. A part of me worries that I’ll always pull punches—that I’ll never put my toys away and play with the big girls.

This is, I think, Stephenie Meyer’s great fault. One of the Cullen clan ought to have kicked it by the end of the series. I was betting on Rosalie being killed off in Breaking Dawn. It would have packed enough of a punch, and torn Emmett to shreds—a depth of character possibly well beyond him with Meyer as his creator.

Good writers—great writers—don’t pull punches. Great writers make you feel every inch of indecision, or hurt, or loss that the character does, and lets the worst of things happen to their characters. My latest favorite author, Maggie Stiefvater, has torn my heart to pieces on more than one occasion, and by goodness do I love her for it.

I worry, though, if I’m capable of that. If I can really destroy a character I love, for the sake of good fiction. It takes a lot to take or destroy a life, even a fictional one.

I want to be able to do that, though. I’m seeing some hope in my future, as lately in plotting I’ve come across ideas that both horrified and excited me—and I think that must be the way it starts.

Character Likeability

I have to start this post by making it clear that growing up, my family has never done anything less than support my writing. When I’ve let them… which means that I spent a lot of time as a kid scribbling in notebooks and not letting anybody read what I wrote—I don’t hold this against myself, as most of it really was awful, but bygones.

My family was always big on creativity. My mother is a master appliqué quilter, who evidence has shown can also draw amazingly and write beautifully. My siblings are all professional artists. Creativity was always going on somewhere in the Asanuma home. My own creativity has always been mainly focused on words, and like I said, my family (especially my mother) were always very supportive of me, even if my “art” wasn’t as flashy as the rest of the family’s, maybe.

That didn’t stop me from hiding it for years, though. I knew I still had a lot to learn, that most of what I was writing was just other peoples’ words reformatted, and mainly, I knew that someday I would be BETTER than that. I knew one day I would write words that moved people.

When I started working on my Secret Project, I knew that finally, finally I had something worth sharing with my family. I was still nervous, because the category I write—Young Adult—is something that neither my mom nor my sister (the two big readers in the family, the two I planned on sharing it with) are even remotely interested in, but I bit the bullet and did it anyhow. The one real response I got from their reading my first three chapters? That my character just wasn’t likeable enough.

I’ll admit, this goaded me a little bit. Partially because one big intention I had with this project was to take a character who was nothing (or at least felt like they were nothing) and build them up into something really and truly formidable—a leader, a hero. That’s not to say that I wanted my character to be unlikeable at the beginning of the book, but I wanted it very clear that life hadn’t been nice to her, and she wasn’t all that crazy about life, either. More than anything, she starts off the book unfulfilled, bored. But that didn’t have to mean she was boring.

I thought for a long time that maybe it was enough that I loved her. Well, me and maybe someone else in the story. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.) Looking back over my manuscript the past week, though, I started seeing just what my mom meant. My character had too many nettles, and not enough spark. Not enough visible spark, rather. The spark was always there, I just needed to be better able to convey it to my audience, earn that little bit of endearment that would make someone want to follow my character on this epic, character-building experience.

So I’m doing some revising. I’ll probably be talking about it a lot for the next little while, because there’s a lot of revising to be done. My character is beautiful and so is the world she lives in… I’ve just been depending far too much on my readers’ ability to climb inside my head to see it all. Can’t be doing that, Lisa.

What about you? Have you ever had someone tell you that your character just isn’t likeable enough? Or __________ enough? Or have you ever found a character lacking in something you were reading yourself? What makes a character likeable to you?