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September 19, 2012

E van Lowe: How to Create Characters We Love to Hate (guest post)

The original Dallas series was a big hit on TV when I was young. The show’s protagonist was also one of the show’s villains. J.R. Ewing, billed as the man we love to hate. It was that appellation that first got me thinking about creating characters readers would both love and hate. J.K. Rowling did a masterful turn at this in creating Severus Snape. Even his name told us to hate him, and yet there was something alternately charming and redeeming about the man that over time drew readers to him.

In creating the Hollyweird series I had this idea in mind. I wanted to create characters that we may not like in the beginning (ala Snape) and yet in time, would grow to love them, or at least understand them. In writing my first YA, Never Slow Dance With A Zombie, I created a selfish protagonist in Margot Jean Johnson. I thought it would be fun for readers to see how she justified her mean and selfish actions before I set out to redeem her in the end. My editor at Tor warned me that readers might have difficulty identifying with Margot. But I wanted to write a flawed protagonist and did. While that first book sold well, the reviews were mixed. A LOT of young women hated Margot. Lesson learned.

I always strive to create characters that ring true, that readers actually come across in real life. Characters we might not like at first glance, but we recognize as people we know. In writing The Zombie Always Knocks Twice I made sure the characters we will eventually love to hate were not my protagonists. Anne Marie, Kris’ hateful older sister, and Talia Multisanto, Kris’ adventuresome, boozing best friend who has a knack for starting trouble, are peripheral characters in this first book. Still, my very first review on Goodreads had this to say about Talia:

I don't see how Kris and Talia could ever be best friends when they're so different. And Talia is also a great piece of work, if I may add. What with the drinking, venting on people, acts of revenge etc.. She's gotta drive Kris crazy one of these days.

The reviewer hated Anne Marie even more. The good news for me, however, is the reviewer still really liked the book. By making my protagonist likeable, I didn’t hurt the reader’s perception of the book as a good read. The lesson for all writers is while it is great fun to create flawed, not very likable characters, when writing YA, we should make sure our protagonists offset the other characters’ un-likability.

The Zombie Always Knocks Twice went on sale a few days ago. Author Amanda Ashby (Zombie Queen of Newbury High) says of the book "E. Van Lowe is a writing force to be reckoned with…a big zombie thumbs up!" I hope you will agree.

About the author:
E Van Lowe is a native of Bronx, New York. He began writing at the young age of 10. Throughout his teen years, he continued to write. After graduating from Lehman College, E pursued his writing dreams in Los Angeles. While pursuing his Masters in Professional Writing at University of Southern California, he sold his first short story to a romance novel. E has gone on to write for many award winning TV shows including: The Cosby Show, and Even Stevens. He also co-wrote the Academy Award nominated short film, Cadillac Dreams. Never Slow Dance With A Zombie was his first teen novel. He is also writing the Falling Angels Saga. Learn more at evanlowe.com


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