Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Revision Tip #4: Make your Main Character likable, unlike my 7-year-old

So, we're hitting that point in the summer when my 7-year-old Kid C becomes slightly more than annoying. He's bored, whiny, and extra literal. He's getting on my last nerve, which happens to be hanging by a thread, which is burning the candle at both ends. (Revision tip #5: watch the overuse of cliches).

Anywho, I took Kid C to see Despicable Me, and ever since he's been convinced he can be adopted into a funner family.

I don't know why this particular complaint- the one where his family isn't good enough- makes me want to drive nails up my arms. 

It all comes to a big whitehead when he says, "Maybe the Petty's will adopt me. They have a cousin named Michael, and I've always wanted a cousin named Michael."

me: "Well, who hasn't? Listen, why don't you head on over to the Petty's and see if they'll adopt you. Good luck."

So he starts walking over to their house, and I don't know what comes over me, but I yell, "If you're not part of this family, then you can't come back."

And he's all, "Great!"
Here's where I pull out the harshest indictment I can think of: "If you were the main character in a book I would NOT be rooting for you. I wouldn't get past page three! I wouldn't care what happened!"

He tilts his head and looks at me, and I realize he doesn't understand a word I've said, thank goodness, because I don't have extra money for therapy bills. 
(Kid C, with the world's largest shrimp. Seriously, where did he come from?)

Despite the context, what I said is totally true. My first book had a MC whom I thought was adorable. Turns out most of the agents I sent the ms to couldn't stand her at the start, and therefore didn't get very far in the ms. 

I had committed the offense of not putting any of her redeeming characteristics up front. And they need to be there, if not on page one, then certainly on page two. 

She doesn't need to go all Angelina-UN-Goodwill-Ambassador on the world or anything. Just something little the reader can cling to. Something that will make the reader root for her, despite her flaws, and her neuroses. 

Give the reader... something to cheer for. 

Keep likability in mind when it comes to revisions. You may love your MC, but it might take the reader a little while to warm up to her. Massage little nuggets of it into that script. Like this true life example:

Yesterday, Kid C learned how to make meatballs, so he decided to share his accomplishment with the world via a "Meatball Stand".

Meatballs for sale.
95 degrees outside.
3 for $1
6 for $2

We live on a very quiet street, and every time a car would round that corner, he'd be all, "Looks like we have our first customer!" and he'd get his little pen and notebook ready to take orders, and then he would mask his disappointment when car after car didn't stop to order Carter's Famous Meatballs. 

What do you think? Rooting for him now? 
I went from accusing him of trespassing each time he stepped on my property, to secretly bribing the neighbors to come and buy his meatballs.

That darn likability factor. 

I leave for L.A. tomorrow. Have I mentioned this before? I'll try to blog from the event.


  1. Oh my heck! I am sorry but a meatball stand?!? If I were in town I TOTALLY would have stopped by. That's just about the coolest thing ever. Likability! I dig it!

  2. Olivia- Wish you were in town. We could've used another customer!

  3. Kid C rocks! He can cause trouble like no other...but man, that boy is adorable.

  4. Next time Kid C has a Meatball stand, call me...I'm in need of meatballs. It reminds me of Abram and Spencer selling Moon Rocks (crumpled up tinfoil). The Stake Pres. bought 4 of them and I swear I started crying when he bought them. There's something likable in every kid, we just have to find out what it is. (If you find Necie's likableness...let me know).

  5. I'm always on the hunt for good meatballs...will he ship?

    I have read a book or two where I didn't like the main character and by the end, I loathed them. Years later, I still wonder why I kept reading it until the end and I realized it was because I kept hoping something would happen and I would like her.

  6. Kid C is totally awesome. He can come live at my home any day. That kid is going places. Have a great time in LA!

  7. I would've stopped by and bought some of Kid C's meatballs just because it's so different from the totally lame lemonade stand. ;)

    I must've been introduced to Lane later on in the development process because I loved her. I thought you did a good job of putting those tidbits of likability into her character up front. And, man! Her boy choices were even better! :)

  8. PS - For the life of me, I can't remember her best friend's name. I remember the mocha's name, but no the other one. I really need to read that again! Is there any way I can buy a copy of your manuscript from you if I sign a contract the never divulge it to anyone?

  9. Sam- he is. Totally. Sometimes.

    Erin- I totally remember the "moon rock" stand! Where do our kids get it from? So funny.

    Una- Those books are the most dissatisfying, aren't they? And who isn't always in the mood for meatballs? They're good for a snack, or dinner, or breakfast...

    Anne- So, since he's "half-Petty" now, does that mean you get him for weekends and holidays? Because we could totally work that out.

    Jenni- Lane's bff was Sam. Thanks for liking her. I still like her a lot, and whenever I write, I write in her voice, no matter what I'm writing. You were so nice to read that! That was almost exactly a year ago. I remember because I was having a particularly hard day at the L.A. SCBWI conference last year, and you sent me a glowing email about the book. I totally needed it that day, and I'll never forget it!

  10. I LOVE the idea of a meatball stand! I have never, ever sen a meatball stand in my life! So funny!

  11. you forgot to call me--we would TOTALLY buy meatballs from kid C-
    could he be any ANY cuter? i feel redundant saying that (over and over!) ;O)

  12. Jenny- If you ever think of branching out into the meatball business (or "meatball sales" as Kid C puts it) he can totally help you out.

    Dorien- Next time I'm totally calling on you. I told him he can only hold it once a week. :)

    You're in luck, because he wants to expand his business to "meatballs and steaks".

  13. Yeah, speaking of lame families, my kids would never be allowed to have a meatball stand. Their parents are too lazy. We don't even allow them to ride their bikes down the street (no sidewalk, crazy drivers). Tell Kid C it could be worse.... (Plus, as of his birthday last Friday, we already have a 7 year old Kid C, so how confusing would that be!)

  14. Robin- I'm totally calling child services on you. :)

  15. Meatballs? I'd probably stop just for the novelty :)

  16. So freakin funny. I want to start a meatball stand just so I can watch people's reactions. He sounds like a genius.

  17. Melissa- make sure you swing by our neighborhood next time!

    Leisha- He is a little genius. Or he's just obsessed with meat. I'm hoping for genius.

  18. Meatballs..I love it! I wish we lived closer. I totally would have stopped to buy some! I miss you and hope you are doing great!!

  19. Monae- I miss you too! Next time we have a meatball stand, we'll send invitations so you can plan to be in the neighborhood.

  20. Brod - I am still dying over the meatball stand. Seriously! I hope he sold at least TEN!!! Tell me he sold ten.

    Great points about a MC.

    And sounds like you had a knock-out time at the Conference. So glad!

  21. Cath- He sold 15. The other day we were driving by a lemonade stand, and he gets this thoughtful look, and says, "That might be good to go with my meatball stand."

    So funny.