Guest Blogger Adria Cimino on Character Likability

a-perfumers-secret-front-coverAuthor Adria Cimino is the author of several novels, including her latest release, THE PERFUMER’S SECRET.

The quest for a stolen perfume formula awakens passion, rivalry and family secrets in the fragrant flower fields of the South of France…

Perfumer Zoe Flore travels to Grasse, perfume capital of the world, to collect a formula: her inheritance from the family she never knew existed. The scent matches the one worn by her mother, who passed away when Zoe was a teenager. Zoe, competing to create a new fragrance for a prestigious designer, believes this scent could win the contract—and lead her to the reason her mother fled Grasse for New York City.

Before Zoe can discover the truth, the formula is stolen. And she’s not the only one looking for it. So is Loulou, her rebellious teenage cousin; Philippe, her alluring competitor for the fragrance contract; and a third person who never wanted the formula to slip into the public in the first place.

The pursuit transforms into a journey of self-discovery as each struggles to understand the complexities of love, the force of pride and the meaning of family.

We are so happy that Adria could be a guest on the Debutante Ball. Here are her thoughts on character likability.

Do Characters Have to be Likable? No. Here’s Why…

Your book’s main character has to be likable! How often have we heard that advice? A lot—from writing teachers to other authors to reviewers. That will give your reader reason to cheer for and care about the protagonist, they say.

But what if the protagonist taking form in your mind isn’t “likable” in a traditional sense? Should you give that character a personality makeover before he or she even appears on the page?

I wondered about that as the three main characters in my latest novel, A Perfumer’s Secret, took shape. In this story of a quest for a missing perfume formula and family secrets in the South of France, my character’s flaws appear before their strengths.

Perfumer Zoe Flore, who as a teenager lost her mother, has cloaked herself in indifference since then. She puts the creation of perfume before the development of human relationships. Philippe, also a perfumer, turns his back on his fiancé as lust for Zoe and her scent consumes him. And Loulou, a teen growing up in a family of well-known perfumers, is in constant conflict with her parents, who just don’t understand her. The flaws in these three characters bring them together, tear them apart, lead them on a path that they might not have taken if they’d been more sympathetic from the start.

Still, as I wrote, I worried: Would readers looking for a likable character lose patience with Zoe’s aloofness, Philippe’s infidelity and Loulou’s impertinence? But even as I considered this possibility, I realized that I liked Zoe, Philippe and Loulou—maybe even more than certain “nicer” characters I’ve created in the past. There is something very human about these three, and as the story unfolds, their vulnerabilities surface. But I don’t want to spoil the story so I won’t tell you any more than that.

I will tell you, though, that I came to one particular conclusion: A book’s main character doesn’t have to be immediately likable. Note the use of the word “immediately.”

Eventually, the reader must understand the reason for a character’s flaws and empathize, but I think readers have the patience to discover this as a plot unfolds. I also think “likable” isn’t really the right word. As an author, I hope the reader will find my characters interesting, worth reading about or intriguing. A character can be all three without being “likable” in the classical sense.

I look to best-selling literature over the past couple of centuries and find plenty of examples of characters who are far from friendly: Scarlett O’Hara, the main character in Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind, wasn’t exactly a Girl Scout. And what about Catherine and Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights? They weren’t a classically charming couple. Holly Golightly, the main character of Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is most known for her superficial way of life.

I’m not counting on my humble works marking history as these literary greats have done, but I do think that a book with atypical heroes and heroines can work just as well as books with characters we immediately want to hug.

So, to authors, I say, if one day a quirky but not necessarily likable character tries to tell you his or her story, continue to listen. And to readers, I say, if one day you meet a not necessarily likable character on page one, continue to read. By the end of the novel, that character might in some way, find his or her way into your heart.

GIVEAWAY: RETWEET on Twitter, and/or SHARE on Facebook by noon (EST) May 27th to win an ecopy Cimino’s debut novel, PARIS, RUE DES MARTYRS.). We’ll select and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!

Adria J. Cimino-author photo 01Adria J. Cimino is the author of Amazon Best-Selling novel Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Close to Destiny, as well as The Creepshow and A Perfumer’s Secret. She also co-founded boutique publishing house Velvet Morning Press. Prior to jumping into the publishing world full time, she spent more than a decade as a journalist at news organizations including The AP and Bloomberg News. Adria is a member of Tall Poppy Writers, which unites bright authors with smart readers. She lives in Paris with her husband, Didier, and daughter, Phèdre. When she isn’t writing, you can find Adria at her neighborhood café watching the world go by.

You can find Adria at her website, on Twitter, and Facebook

To order a copy of THE PERFUMER’S SECRET, click here

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Louise Miller

Louise Miller is the author of THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking/August 9, 2016), the story of a commitment-phobic pastry chef who discovers the meaning of belonging while competing in the cut-throat world of Vermont county fair baking contests. Find out more at louisemillerauthor.tumblr.com.

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This article has 5 Comments

  1. Louise, so glad you had Adria as your guest post today! Adria, I love your writing, have several of your books yet to read. I loved Close to Destiny, and can not wait to read A Perfumer’s Secret. Scents have such wonderful memories for me and I love the theme of your novel. Love the name of your publishing company Velvet Morning Press. Yes I agree that many times I start a book not liking a particular character only to change my mind with compassion and hope as they change…it just make things real. And I am a patient reader, I don’t give up on a novel unless it is totally just downright awful. I am picturing you sitting outside at a café in Paris…how great it would be to be there! Thanks Adria.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Carol! When I read, and when I write, I like to take a voyage with my characters, which often involves them growing and changing. I hope A Perfumer’s Secret will transport you to the flower fields of Provence. Happy reading!

  2. Oh, yes. Of all the bad writing advice out there, this may be the most insidious.

    Holly Golightly is a very good example, because you don’t like her, but you do want to understand her. Or look at Sherlock Holmes — the most consistently popular fictional character over the last 100+ years. He may be fascinating to watch but, let’s be honest, Watson puts up with a lot. I wouldn’t want Holmes as my roommate.

    Things no one has ever said: “Citizen Kane is a pretty good movie, but it would be better if Kane was more likable.” 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment! Very true that if a character is interesting, if you want to find out more about him or her, that character doesn’t necessarily have to be “likable” in the traditional sense. The problem with some writing advice is it is often very “black or white,” when really there are so many shades in between…

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