Yesterday I talked a little bit about the importance of your characters’ physical appearance, when it comes to creating attraction between them. Today I’m going to talk about another major attraction factor: personality. We all know that looks will only get you so far with someone before your true self comes in to play. What you need to know, what your readers need to know, is what it is about each character that the other is really drawn to. Most people are drawn to personality traits in others that they either identify with, value highly, or wish they had more of themselves. In the same way, most people are usually turned off by personality traits that they don’t like in themselves, or that they consider “deal-breakers.”
The most common pairing I usually see in romance is the introverted, stoic protector matched with a spunky, yet fragile extrovert. (This pretty much sums up Talon and Shasta from Sword of the Guardian perfectly.) I think this combination is so popular because of the dynamic it creates, especially when the characters are gendered. The more masculine or butch character is typically the stoic, strong one, while the more feminine character is the one who’s bubbly and always getting into trouble. He’s drawn to her spirit, she’s drawn to his power, and voila! Instant formula for ~LUV~. Provided that you keep your characters interesting and avoid cliche, this can be done really well. But, especially if you’re going to be writing more than one book, be careful about using the same personality formula over and over. It will start to seem like you’re writing the same story again and again.
Instead, try mixing it up a little. Change the gendered expectations, perhaps. Let your protector be extroverted and perhaps a bit bumbling or arrogant, and their love interest might be a bit of a shy, bookish, geeky type. Just be sure to show us what it is about each other that they like. Your characters should not be perfect – each should have a handful of traits that the average person probably would not consider attractive. Those are the ones that are most fun to play with, as you figure out why their love interest is able to find those things charming.
Another possibility is to work with the whole “opposites attract” idea. In Branded Ann, it turned out that what the characters were attracted to in each other were the things they were most uncomfortable with in themselves. Ann, the notorious pirate, was terrified of her own capacity for violence, the things she was willing to do to survive. What drew her to Violet was Violet’s strength, tenacity and fearlessness, which were all things Ann wanted to have herself. Violet, on the other hand, had spent her entire life struggling to maintain some measure of freedom from people who were stronger and more powerful than she was. She was enchanted by Ann’s hidden vulnerability, her loneliness and sadness and need for connection with others.
So here’s a list of possible personality traits your characters might take on:
- cheerful or grumpy
- shy or confident
- quiet or outspoken
- energetic or laid-back
- reserved or expressive
- generous or selfish
- leader or follower
- careful or reckless
- aggressive or passive
- stubborn or easily swayed
- enjoys conflict or avoids conflict
For example, I’d describe Talon as confident, quiet, reserved, careful, stubborn and a leader. I’d describe Shasta as cheerful, confident, outspoken, expressive, selfish, aggressive and also a leader. They attract one another both through the traits that they share and the areas where they are opposites.
And because this song pretty much sums up what I’m getting at here:
Tomorrow we’ll move on to attraction factor #3: Skills.