When Characters Whine

Keeping both the trees and the forest in mind.

Miles run yesterday: 5.5

Words written in my novel so far: 40,265

Interviews done about Santa Barbara last week: 2! Yippee!

Now that I’m right here in the middle of my novel’s first draft, I realize that a.) the first part of my novel is usually its weakest part and b.) this is a problem.

I’m in the meaty part, the part where my characters are doing things and saying things and not keeping their mouths shut like maybe they should. And I love it.

But here is my question: how do you keep the reader rooting for a somewhat unlikeable character? I’ve read many takes on this subject, many thoughts about the antihero as hero. And while my heroine is not an antihero exactly, she is not completely large and in charge of her life when the novel opens.

In fact, she has been described as whiny.

There is a reason for the whininess, of course. She has had to struggle, in a non-poverty, non-substance abuse, non-down-and-out kind of way. But struggled, nonetheless. She is the teensiest bit self-pitying.

I kind of liked that about Scarlett O’Hara, and I don’t mind it a bit in my own character. The reason: I know what she’s been through, and I know what’s coming.

But what if you don’t know? What if an agent, or eventually you, pick up my book and then put it down before her metamorphosis occurs?

I try to write truthfully, and in my experience, people do tend to whine and complain, at least to a degree. Being noble all the time gets a little tiresome.

One time, a few years ago, I wrote an essay to submit to a women’s (writing) magazine. The thrust of the magazine? Very feminist, very strong. The thrust of my essay? I’m not great at traveling, and while I still plan to do it, it’s not easy for me… and I haven’t completely overcome some of my fears.

The feedback I got was that they loved the voice but wanted the subject (me) to have conquered her fears. I could have written that, I suppose.

But the truth of the matter? We’re all works-in-progress. We don’t always overcome things in a noble manner, kicking all doubt to the curb and becoming a Better Person.

I’ll keep working on making my character more likeable, less whiny. But the truth is that I kind of like her that way. She’s not perfect; she doesn’t have it all figured out yet. She’s not noble.

What do you think? Have you ever struggled with making a character more likeable? How do you balance truth with what readers (and agents) expect?



Captured on film for Eternity.

Words written in my novel so far: 24,111

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Days until my 40th birthday: 38

A couple of nights ago, I had a dream that all of my hair went gray overnight. And I’ve been chased a lot in my dreams lately.

I have had more dreams than I can mention where I am running a race, and the course isn’t marked well. In one, runners were expected to crawl through a hole the size of which only my nine-year-old daughter could fit through.

I didn’t fit.

Is it my 40th birthday looming? Other stressors? I don’t know.

Like I’ve discussed with friends: aging isn’t so bad if you’ve checked off all of the things you’d hoped to accomplish.

If not? Well, welcome to some funky dreams, my friend.

Back in college, my cute Psychology professor dude talked to us about Eternity Projects… what you hope to leave behind when you’re gone. Perhaps it’s that you birth an amazing kid who goes on to save the world by finding a cure for cancer. Or you create a modern-day equivalent of The Statue of Liberty.

This may come as a shock to some readers, but I was not totally concerned about my Eternity Project at age 20. The end of my life seemed comfortably far in the future.

At age almost-40? Not so much.

And in the immortal words of Prince, or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or [Place Symbol Here] or Prince (again): Forever is a mighty long time.

I suppose I have to come out of the closet at this point and say that as I consider my life and my future, I am almost completely an Intuitive sort of person.

You may now play new age music, burn incense and chant with me.


But much has been written on fellow writers’ blogs lately about choices and self-doubt. I posit that this is simply the human condition.

But amid all the weirdo dreams and daily white noise, we all need to get in touch with that incense-burning, whole foods-eating, chemical-free part of ourselves and follow the signs.

I had a cool affirmation this morning! After waking up slightly off-kilter, definitely questioning if I should change the setting of one part of my novel, I started researching more and found a “thumbs-up” kind of sign for my original setting. It was just the sign I needed to move forward and stop worrying about crawling through holes that weren’t my size.

Do you have times when you question your choices? How have you resolved those issues? How much do you trust your intuition over research?

And lastly, a plea for research help: does anyone know a person who a.) lives in Santa Barbara, California or b.) has lived in Santa Barbara at any time over the past 20 years? I’d love to speak with him or her!