Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Cinderella Effect: Transforming a Wicked Character Into a Likable Heroine

Okay, I admit it -- I'm nervous. In exactly 14 days, my second book in The Daughters of Boston Series, A Passion Redeemed, hits the stores with a heroine that everybody hates. YIKES!! Can I help it if I was warped at the age of 12 after reading Gone With the Wind, resulting in an obsessive kinship with characters like Scarlett O'Hara???

I can still smell the fear in the e-mails from my agent and editor as they grappled with the prospect of my turning Charity O'Connor -- the woman that so many readers wanted to slap in A Passion Most Pure (and whom fellow Seeker Camy Tang wanted to kill or maim!) -- into a LIKABLE heroine.

An impossible task? I didn't think so, but time will tell if readers will fall in love with this wonderfully flawed woman who was truly a pleasure to redeem. I simply employed a strategy that I like to call "The Cinderella Effect" -- transforming a wicked stepsister into a princess at a ball with an easy wave of the wand and a few strokes of the keyboard.

For instance, in A Passion Most Pure, Collin McGuire is a drinking, womanizing rogue that most readers wanted to hate, but when I gave them a glimpse of his painful past, his tender heart, and his passion for family, they found themselves pulling for him instead. Okay, okay ... I know what you are thinking -- easy to do with a handsome and warmly passionate man, but what about a female who appears to be nothing more than a cold and manipulative flirt?

Also easy! I believe you can make ANY character more likable and relatable to the reader by implementing some or all of the points indicated below:

1.) SHOW THE CHARACTER'S COMPASSION. With Charity, I interjected a number of important scenes of compassion, but here are two examples:

Her tender relationship with her great-grandmother, which is witnessed by the hero in this scene, unbeknownst to Charity:

At eighty years old, Mima was little more than skin and bones, a tiny Dresden china doll with long, snowy hair fanned out across her pillow. Charity stood over her, sponging her pale, translucent cheek with a wet cloth, her voice soft and tender. "There you are, Mima, your skin is as glowing as a newborn babe's. How pretty you look! Now just a dab of color." Charity rubbed her finger across her own lips and applied a hint of blush to her great-grandmother's cheeks. Then she leaned back, hands on her hips. "Goodness, Mima, I'll bet if Great-Grandfather could see you now, he'd fall in love all over again."

Her defense of her best friend Emma:

"Speaking of Emma, how are things?"

Charity glimpsed up. Her smile faded into a frown. "Not good, but she refuses to leave."

The soft gray of Horatio's eyes darkened to pewter. "How can a woman stay with a monster like that?"

Charity forced herself to concentrate on folding the charcoal-colored morning coat. She blinked several times to dispel a sting of wetness in her eyes. "I don't know, Mr. Hargrove. She claims she loves him. Swears he didn't mean it. That it was the bottle and not 'her Rory' who threw the hot grease in her face." Charity shivered.

Mr. Hargrove placed a gnarled hand on top of hers. "She told me what you did, my dear. How you saved her job, threatening to quit if Emma lost hers."

Charity whirled around to scoop tobacco into a bag, heat flooding her cheeks. The sweet, rich scent of maple rum drifted in the air. "Goodness, Emma and I are a team, Mr. Hargrove. I can't keep this shop running by myself, you know."

"You're a good friend, Charity O'Connor. Putting your job on the line to save hers." He released a quiet sigh. "What a tragedy. One so young and lovely ... now so disfigured. I pray God watches over her."


She groaned and jolted up, suddenly noticing the clean counter where stacks of dishes should have been waiting. Guilt slithered within. Not only had she made a fool of herself with the man she loved, but she had disappointed her grandmother and Mima. Flitted off to do her own bidding, completely flaunting their wishes. And after Grandmother had slaved for hours to make a special Thanksgiving dinner just for her. Charity choked back a sob. She was a miserable creature. An ungrateful granddaughter and a selfish human being. She didn't deserve any man's love. Why would God even consider it?


Dooley nodded and fisted the bag in one hand and the peppermint stick in the other. His grin was ear to ear. "Thank you, Miss Charity. Me mum's right. You are an angel from above."

Charity chuckled as she walked him to the door. "There are some who would argue that point, Dooley. See you next week."

"Yes, ma'am. Good night."

Charity closed the door softly and flipped the bolt. Humming to herself, she strolled back to the register to record the cost of the bunting and peppermint stick on her personal charge. She glanced at the dirty burlap on the counter and sighed. She didn't have high hopes for the raisin bread, but she'd take it home nonetheless. The neighbor's dog seemed genuinely fond of it.


Charity dropped on the bed. A mix of anger and guilt shuddered through her like the chill of the room. She couldn't escape it. She'd betrayed her sister. Now regret shadowed her in shame, never allowing her to forget.

She grappled her fingers through her hair. If only she could be free. A clear conscience. A forgiven heart. The love of the man she longed for. Her fist trembled to her mouth as an involuntary cry escaped her lips. Oh, Faith, I'm sorry. When did I start hating you?


Charity. The very name inflicted a sharp ache in his heart. Sky blue eyes that teased and tempted, lips that were the curse of his resolve. A wounded little girl, stubborn and strong, defiant in her quest for love. And all the while, a sensual woman, resiliant to the core, fiercely devoted to those she opened her heart to. He drew in a deep breath to ward off the longing. No! He may love her and, yes, forgive her, and certainly pray for her, but he would never trust her. Not enough to make her his wife.


SO ... there you have it, just a few of the things I incorporated to help Charity win the reader's heart. Of course (grin), you won't know if I actually succeeded until you read the book, but until then, I would LOVE to hear from you! As a writer, what do YOU do to endear your characters to your readers? When a contest judge says a character is not likable, what have you added or changed in your copy? Go for it -- give me examples -- I would love to know!


  1. Personally, Julie, I don't think I'll have any trouble liking Charity!

    I purposely skimmed some of your excerpts because I want to wait and read it all at once! But I think the best way--for me--to start liking and relating to a mean character is when they demonstrate their remorse through internal dialogue. If I see their regret and really feel that they're sorry, even if they can't or won't admit it openly, I will be able to relate to them and feel for them.

    As skillful an author as you are, Julie, especially when it comes to characters, I have no doubt I'll like Charity. I was a huge Scarlett fan, too, as a young girl.

  2. Great job, Julie! I'm looking forward to seeing that naughty little minx "Cinderella-ed!"

  3. Wow! Beautiful writing, Julie. I'd love to feature the book in Stepping Stones Magazine for Writers in the September releases.

    I just bought 'A Passion Most Pure' and as soon as I am finished reading Marylu Tyndall's lastest, I'll be sinking into your 'passionate' tale.

  4. In an upcoming series I turned a villain into a hero.

    In Montana Rose, coming next summer, the villain, Wade is obsessed with the heroine. I have him skirt way too close to the edge of pure evil.

    But I wanted to redeem him.
    I don't redeem all my villains, I hang a few of them, shoot the rest, you know, very satisfying.

    But Wade I wanted to save. So book #3 in that series has Wade, a new man, still struggling with the old troubles that led him step by step to a terrible messed up life. But now turning to God with his problems and weaknesses instead of turning on himself or others.

    I'm prepared to love Charity, too, Julie. I trust you to MAKE HER SUFFER FIRST!!!!!!!

  5. Hey Mel -- yeah, as a Scarlett fan, I'm guessing you will like Charity for sure! Oh, and I totally agree -- internal monologue is key to softening a character for a reader!

    Thanks, Glynna! She is a minx, no doubt about that, but I assure you that the hero is more than enough man to handle her! :)

    Rita -- thank you SO much!! And I am so glad you are going to read A Passion Most Pure first, because this is one series that you MUST read in order.

    Oh man, Mary, Wade sounds like the kind of bad-boy character that I LOVE to read about -- can't wait! And trust me, I definitely make Charity suffer before the end of the book, so rest assured that she gets hers ... and then some! :)

  6. Lucky me--I started reading APR over the weekend! I can already see Charity's softer side coming through, even alongside her "minx-iness." What really helps is playing her off a hurting, nice-guy hero like Mitch. We're rooting for him, and we know he's fighting attraction to Charity, so it's easy to want to see her change into a woman worthy of true love.

    I have a less-than-likable heroine in one of my manuscripts and have worked in revisions to show her vulnerability and innate goodness. Revealing what shaped her attitude and personality is a big factor, as is gradually showing her changing throughout the story.

  7. Julie, thanks for the thorough, informative post on how to transform a reader's perception of our characters! Your examples were wonderful! I can't wait to read Charity's story!!!

    My hero wasn't wicked, but his actions in the manuscript's opening made readers want to slap him. I knew why he treated the heroine the way he did, but no one else did. To fix the problem I opened the first chapter in his POV, giving the reader a glimpse of his pain, so they'd understand his reaction. And I had him save a child from being rundown by a wagon and the tender way he treated the street urchin. I never had anyone complain about him after the change.


  8. Hi Julie,

    Big congrats on your new book! I tell you, this blog is very timely for me. I'm working on a sequel to my first book and the heroine of #2 was not necessarily a villian, but she certainly wasn't *nice* to my first heroine.

    It's been a real challenge to tell her story just right, but it's been fun. I love your suggestions and I'm going to look at them often.

  9. Julie, I'm 100 pages in on my copy as of yesterday! My MIL won a copy of A Passion Most Pure, and when I told her I was reading the sequel, she immediately said, "I hope she doesn't write about that younger sister! I didn't like her!" How funny!!!

    I'll let you know how things turn out in another day or two! Can't wait to blog this one!!


  10. PS If anyone can make Christy likable, it's you! I'm like Mary though, I hope there is a bit of suffering involved! She sure turned Faith's world on its ear for no good reason!!

    I bet you could even make me like Scarlet O'Hara! I dunno know though, I REALLY don't like that woman to this day! She makes me MAD!!


  11. Julie, what a wonderful post and such great timing too! One of my characters is utterly hateful. There are times when I want to smack her. Wretched woman. She is redeemed by book's end and much more likable, I hope. Thank you for sharing. I'm printing your list for my notebook.

  12. Great post, Julie! And can I brag that I got to hear it in person before reading it?

    So great to visit with you and your personal hero, Julie. Thanks for the AWESOME dinner.

    You all would be jealous if you saw the plate of food Julie served us (me and Camy Tang) at her house last Tuesday before my Wednesday a.m. surgery.



  13. Oh, Myra, makes me sooo nervous when I know good friends (and fabulous writers like you The Seekers and many of our commenters) are in the process of reading my book!! YIKES! Hope you love Charity by book's end ...

    Janet, opening your first chapter in the hero's POV (with his painful past) was really smart to soften a character with questionable likability. I take it this is book 2 you are talking about?

    Thanks so much, Carla, and gosh, I am soooo glad this blog is timely for your book 2!! Transforming Charity was something I realllly had to think about and work at, with lots of revisions and last-minute scene softeners, so have fun with your character's transformation!!


  14. Hey Kim, that's a hoot what your MIL said!! Hopefully by book's end, you can tell her that that nasty "younger sister" gets her comeuppance in APR ... but by the time she does, you feel badly for her (or at least I hope you do!).

    Mmm ... not sure I could make Scarlett likable. She was pretty much an infidel, but I guess I liked her for her pitt-bull tendancies and because she was an infidel ... like I used to be. :)


  15. Gosh, Lisa, that's pretty bad when you want to slap your own character!!:) Thanks so much for your kind comment.

    Cheryl, do you like how I ran with what we talked about??? I don't remember if it was Camy's idea or yours to write my Seeker blog about transforming a wicked character into a heroine, but THANK YOU for the idea! Dinner was fun ... even if I burned the garlic bread! :)


  16. I think we all love a turn-around/redeemed/Cinderella story. As Christians that resonates with us even more.

    So, here's to Scarlett, and Charity, and Wade and all those other rascals out there.


  17. Ok, Julie,
    Now I'm 200 pages have your work cut out for you girl!!!

    I don't know how it ends yet, but this book is impossible to put down!! Loving it!


  18. Hear, hear, Ann -- I raise my glass to the Cinderella Effect God does in each of our lives!! Thanks for your wise comment.

    So, Kim, you're 200 pages in and think I have my work cut out for me with Charity, do you now? Well buckle up, my friend, because you're right at the part where the ride gets a little bumpy for our Miss O'Connor!! Glad you are enjoying it.


  19. Arrrgghh I am so jealous of people who are currently reading A Passion Redeemed. My copy can't come fast enough!

    And I was with Camy - I wanted to main Charity in the first book so I am hanging out to see how you manage to make her likeable!

  20. You guys know I mention my demon possessed serial killer book from time to time??? Right?

    In the end of that book I redeem the demon possessed serial killer.

    My daughter Wendy read it and said, "Mope, he's gotta die and it's gotta be an ugly way to die. Nothing else works."

    So, just saying, they can't ALL be dusted off and shined up and turned into sympathetic characters.

  21. Such a wonderful post, Julie!! And such great ideas! Thanks for sharing the excerpts. I can't wait to get my hands on the book!


  22. Kara, grin, are you sure you're not related to Camy Tang? Both of you have this sadistic approach to dealing with Charity. Rest assured that I stopped just short of maiming her in A Passion Redeemed! :)

    Uh, Mare, I think a demon-possessed serial killer would be the exception to this blog. Although, I read Calico Canyon, so I know just how skilled you are as a writer, so maybe you could get away with it ...

    Missy!! Thanks, sweetie, for your kind comments -- your book should be in the mail soon, girlfriend, because you're on the list ...


  23. Jules!

    Sorry, I couldn't get in yesterday. I was here early and then couldn't get back. Wretched children!!!!


    But I loved this post, girlfriend! Not only solid, concrete, sink-your-teeth-into-'em ideas but wonderful examples from a book I can't wait to get my hands on.


    And Charity was young enough in PMP that a lot of her zealous sensuality and impulsiveness is due to immaturity plagued by her hot-mama inner nature. All hot-mama chickie, chickie baby's feel like that when they're teens.


    Don't they?

    We had a babysitter (male) when the kids were young who categorized women into two types.

    1. Teacher type

    2. Babes

    From such a simple lesson, so much is learned! Guys perceptions don't streeeeeeetch the way women's do. They see two types...


    And I was always a babe type in a teacher type body. What's up with that???? Talk about inner conflict. Thank God pretty cami's are now the style because I can be a vamp and everyone thinks I'm just being normal.

    As long as your definition of 'normal' is somewhat loosely defined.

    Great post, my friend, and I can't wait to read Charity's unveiling. God love her, a lot of Christian readers will totally empathize with that girl! (But may not admit it...)

    Ruthy (who was too late to bring food! Sorry, guys!)

    I was always a babe type in a teacher type body.

    Grin. I know what you mean, Ruthy -- I was always a babe type in a boy's body. Sigh. Ironically, age has fleshed me up a bit ... mmm, in more ways than one, I guess. Thanks for dropping by, Ruthy, no matter how late!


  25. I did as Melanie skimmed the summary.
    but I think i will like Charity cos I could see from book one show she felt her father didn't love her as much as Faith and that Faith was his favourite etc. It gives an understanding into some of her behavour. I got the book yesterday and after the Olympics I will start reading it. Cant wait.

  26. Julie, I can hardly wait to get my hands on your new book! I've already told you that when I was on my own deadline, that I'd read a few chapters of A Passion Most Pure and try to put it down...I finally had to, but what a great book with real characters! I have a heroine in my 3rd book that I've just started, (from my first book), who is similar to Charity. I appreciate your giving these examples on fleshing out our characters!

  27. Jenny and Brenda -- Thanks SO much for taking the time to stop by!


  28. wow! can't wait to read the book!