Isn’t she nice?

I’m facing a bit of a dilemma.

I’m not very good at writing about nice characters.

pretty-woman-in-field-820477__340

Nice.

I tried. I tried really hard to make Alice, the heroine of “The Manor on the Moors”, a thoroughly nice person, her one flaw being an ever-so-slight (but utterly endearing) lack of confidence. She would develop confidence in spectacular style throughout the book to make her, by the end, practically perfect.  And then along came Caroline. She was meant to be the opposite of Alice’s niceness, throwing just what a lovely person Alice was into stark relief. She was meant to be mean, domineering and constantly cross to make Alice seem utterly lovely.

But the problem I found was – if your characters begin the book being thoroughly nice (or nasty) where have they got to go? If your main character is already beloved by all, pretty, intelligent and sweet, how can she grow?

Authors often say that when writing the characters take over, and this is what I allowed to happen. Flawed characters are much more interesting to write about than well rounded, happy characters, so Alice’s lack of confidence grew to be not just a tiny little flaw in her all-round general niceness, but a crippling problem that was going to ruin her life if she didn’t deal with it. I found I warmed to Caroline because of her awkwardness. I had to explain it, develop it and then show that there was more to her than a grumpy middle-aged woman constantly trying to tell other people what to do, but I couldn’t stop her being awkward. And I couldn’t stop her trying to take over ever scene she entered.

nice woman

Utterly lovely.

Instead of Caroline’s attitude making Alice seem more attractive by comparison, Caroline’s sometimes harsh judgement rang a bell of truth. When Caroline wonders ‘if it was legal to shake a visiting PhD student into some semblance of common sense and  [she] concluded that probably it wasn’t …’ I couldn’t help but sympathise with Caroline’s judgement. Alice’s niceness was diminished by Caroline’s attitude to her.

I ended up with two very different heroines with very different issues – but neither of them was practically perfect, or even close to it.

And there’s the dilemma. Because, especially in the genre of cupcakes and cafes that my books inhabit, readers in general warm to a sympathetic main character with whom they can empathise, not a flawed one who can be (let’s be honest about this) a bit irritating at times. I’m no longer even sure whether I’m capable of creating someone nice enough to carry the weight of genre expectations – and crucially, I’m not sure if I want to.

nice woman 2

Practically perfect

 

The Manor on the Moors is now available in both e-book and paperback form here if you want to read about two not entirely lovely ladies …

An introduction to … Caroline.

Caroline Lattimore in “The Manor on the Moors” wasn’t meant to be a heroine at all; she was meant to be an antagonist! Where Alice was meant to be sweet-natured, obliging and kind Caroline was to be her complete opposite. And in fact she still is. If there is a situation to be handled with kid gloves, Alice will stroke the problem gently and ask it nicely to go away, but Caroline will barge in there with her steel toe-capped boots on and kick it. Caroline will not allow anyone to help her and spends most of her scenes with an ironic eyebrow or two raised in comment – but I loved writing about her. She sprang off the page, kicking and screaming where Alice sometimes had to be coaxed to do anything at all.

caroline manor image

It was incredibly difficult to find a picture to sum Caroline up. For a start, she’s in her fifties, and women in their fifties are not easy to find on Pixabay – but that’s a whole different post to write one day. She has distinctive short white hair – when most of the women of Pixabay have flowing blonde or brunette tresses. The best I could do was an image that seemed to sum up Caroline’s attitude to life – a slightly awkward-looking woman in a sensible coat.

Caroline is the daughter of the owner of Misterley Manor and she’s in charge of the grand stately home. But she finds her job increasingly a struggle: she’s spent “… the last few, lonely years … locked away here at Misterley Manor fighting the rising tide of debt, decay and disorder.” For a start her family are no help. A stubborn elderly father, an eccentric aunt, a daughter who spends most of the novel chasing one of the builders, and then there’s her ex-husband Duncan. “That Man”, as she refers to him, just won’t keep his nose out of her affairs. But Caroline just puts her head down and gets on with life, upholding the Lattimore family motto “Pride and Strength”.

The big question is, how long can Caroline’s “Pride and Strength” keep her going?