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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Author's Tip: Creating Lovable Characters by Mona Risk

As the critique coordinator and member of the FTH Critiquers for three years, I have critiqued a fairly large number of manuscripts. Add to these an impressive amount of contests judging over the years and the weekly exchange of chapters with my wonderful critique partners. Amazingly I’ve gathered almost as much useful information from critiquing as I have learned from books, workshops and seminars. In a way the latest taught me the theory but critiquing and judging showed me the mistakes I should avoid. The most important thing I learned was that the characters can make a good book or a mediocre one.

When I finish reading a book I really enjoyed, I remain in my chair, meditating for a few quiet minutes on the story I just finished. I often experience a strange mix of happiness and sadness, happiness for the heroine and hero who have succeeded in overcoming their problems or defeating their enemy, but sadness because I have to leave them, to say goodbye. Isn’t that why we love series? Because we can meet again the characters we liked so much and live again with them a part of their lives.

Don’t you agree that creating lovable characters is the most important part in making a book successful? To create believable characters, you have to know them well. Some writers interview their characters. I prefer to live with them. I keep them in my mind and talk to them while walking, driving, eating on my own. My heroine becomes a dear friend, another me. As for my hero, I always fall in love with him while writing his story.

Just describing a beautiful heroine or a macho hunk will not make them memorable. You need to dig deep into their soul and show the reader their real personalities, the side of them they don’t want anyone to see. Imagine a heroine who tries to hide her soft nature under a cold fa├žade, to appear strong and professional in her job while dealing with a family, or a handicapped child, at home. Now we are talking. Add to that, a deception in her past, an attraction to her boss or a colleague that can jeopardize her career or affect her family. That’s raising the stakes.

Readers like to find similarities between themselves and the characters; an attraction that makes them share the characters’ suffering and struggles until the hero and heroine reach the HEA.

Let’s face it. Readers are a bit sadistic. They love to bite their nails and breathe fast as they watch the hero and heroine jumping from the pan into the fire and trying to get out of difficult situations. So don’t hesitate to torture your characters. Don’t make it easy for them. Conflict is the name of the game. Only conflicted people have a story. Happy people are boring. When you hero and heroine are finally happy, it’s time to type, THE END.

Also be careful about the pace of the story. Accelerate the pace with dialogue. During action, use short sentences, scarce descriptions. After a fast scene with high suspense, allow the reader to relax with an introspection that will slow the pace while the characters expose their emotions. Slow-paced scenes should be short to prevent the reader from getting too relaxed and bored. To keep a good pace, alternate short sentence and long ones. Short paragraphs and long ones. Short scenes and long scenes. Often a love scene may break a highly suspenseful situation and keep the momentum going.

No matter what genre you write, enjoy your story while writing it.

Mona Risk writes romantic suspense for Cerridwen Press,
To Love A Hero [The Romance Studio~ Sweetheart of the Week: Ms. Risk is one of those authors who puts together a tale that’s captivates from first page to last]
French Peril [Night Owl Romance~ Recommended Read~ Mona Risk’s characters will enthrall you as they all dance to their own personal tunes]
and medical romances for The Wild Rose Press,
Babies in the Bargain, [Readers Favorite 2009 Best Romance; The Long & the Short, Reviews Best Book of The Week~ This one will keep you on your toes and make you beg for more.]
Rx for Trust [Night Owl Romance~ TopPick Reading] and Rx in Russian.
All her books are available at


  1. Hi Mona,
    Very interesting post, you are so right, the hero and heroine can make or break a story.
    Congratulations on winning the Preditors and Editors poll in the romance novel section.


  2. So true, Mona. My favorite books are the kind where I can't stop thinking about the characters after I've put the book down -- whether I'm partway through the book or have finished it.

  3. You know Margaret, I often forget the title of a book but I remember the names of the charcaters I like.

  4. Great post, Mona. I always fall in love with my characters as I write them too, and usually see the story unfold like a movie in my head. Critique partners are great for pointing out whatever didn't make it from my head to the page! And I agree, the greater the conflict, the more you'll engage your readers, and the greater the happy ending.

  5. Mona,

    I have a few books on my shelf that I will not ever let go, because people I care about live within their pages. My goal as a writer is to get as good as those authors and give the treasure they've given me to someone else.

    Now a question, in a romantic suspense, in your opinion can the heroine and hero confess their love 3/4 through the book and still have story? I'm thinking heroine is kidnapped and hero must save her in last 1/4?

    2009 Golden Heart Finalist

  6. You see Barbara what I mean. When we love the characters, they become like beloved relatives. I am hooked to Grey's Anatomy and wait impatiently every Thursday to visit with Meredith, Derek, Izzie, Miranda and the others...

  7. You see Barbara what I mean. When we love the characters, they become like beloved relatives. I am hooked to Grey's Anatomy and wait impatiently every Thursday to visit with meredith, Derek, izzie and the others...

  8. That's it, Cate. When you like a story and the characters are well described, you can see them performing like in a movie. But if they are not appealing I have trouble seeing them.

  9. Autumn, I think they can confess their love at 3/4 of the story but they must have problems before living the HEA.

    In To Love A Hero, Sergei and Cecile confess their love in ch 10 or 12 but she can't give up her career and independence. She's not at that point yet. So they will suffer and struggle with their conflicts until the dark moment happens to make them realize they mean more to each other than anything else.

    Your hero will go to save her, because he loves her but that doesn't mean he's convinced that she really really wants him for ever. Or maybe he's not ready to give up something for her. Somehow they have to pay for the right to have a HEA. does that make sense?

  10. Great tips, Mona -- not just about the characters, but about pacing and sentence variation. Nothing drags me out of a story faster than finding myself mentally rewriting the thing as I'm reading...if that's the case, I may as well be working on my own! lol

    Huge congrats on the P&E win, btw -- well done!!!


  11. Mona--we read for the characters, don't we? I read in a study book--never let your characters rest--when they get out of one problem, toss them into another one. Congratulations on this book, too. Celia

  12. Nothing destroys a story more for me than a hero/heroine I generally do not like. Which is somewhat funny because in my last novel, I gave the heroine some quirks at first to show how she grew up through the story. Got a lot of comments about how she was really irritating at first - but that was the idea.