I’m facing a bit of a dilemma.
I’m not very good at writing about nice characters.
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.
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.
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 …