The word “swoon” is usually associated with romance, but at Swoon Reads we prefer the second, broader definition which, according to Merriam Webster, is “to become enraptured.” After all, as readers and editors, what we are really looking for is a book, from any genre, that sweeps us off our feet. And for me at least, the surest way to make sure that your book stands out from the crowd is to create a character worthy of swooning over. Easy, right?
Don’t worry, Tumblr and I are here to help. A couple of years ago, I came across a popular Tumblr meme called “the stages of fangirling,” and I instantly connected to it as a quick and easy way to explain what makes a character “swoonworthy.” And while the labels sound a bit ‘romance-y,’ trust me, I’ve seen them applied to characters from every genre—heroes, villains, side characters, love interests—any character can be swoonworthy if done properly.
- What a cutie.
This is usually your first impression of the character. So make sure that they stand out from the crowd. Let them be in motion, give them something to do, and let that action have some effect on the story. Whether it’s tripping the bully at just the right moment for their victim to escape or adding the perfect bit of snarky commentary to rescue a dull party or masterfully setting off the first stage in their evil plan to take over the world, make sure that their entrance grabs the reader’s attention.
- Oh no, they’re HOT!
Now that you have your reader’s attention, it’s time to up the ante and really move the character from “interesting” to “tell me more!” And you do this by adding depth. Show the readers a different side of your character. If they are introduced as being tough and standoffish then show them being kind or taking care of someone (siblings and pets and elderly relatives can be helpful here!). If they are kind and sweet, but normally a bit of a pushover, show them standing up for themselves or others. Swoonworthy characters are multi-faceted and three dimensional.
- Protect them, they’re awkward!
This is the most important part of the process, and the one that many writers tend to miss. The greatest characters, the ones that you fall in love with, have flaws. They mess up and look like idiots and make mistakes. This makes them human and relatable, and most importantly gives them room to grow and change as the story progresses. People aren’t perfect and your characters shouldn’t be either. If you show me that the character is vulnerable and real, then I’ll love them and be rooting for them to grow and change.
If you can make a character that inspires all three stages of fangirling/fanboying in a reader, then, as we’ve seen over and over on SwoonReads.com, social media, and just through word-of-mouth in the office, not only are they much more likely to keep reading, but they are also highly likely to spread their love of your book and its amazing characters to all their friends.
For more editorial advice, or to squee about books with us, check out swoonreads.com/blog.
Holly West is an editor at Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads. She grew up in southern Kentucky as “that girl who reads a lot” but in 2005 she escaped to NYC where she was lucky enough to land her dream job of working in publishing. She started out in publicity but soon decided that editing would be much more fun. Working closely with Jean Feiwel, she helped to launch Macmillan’s YA imprint Swoon Reads in 2013, and now works with authors like Mo O’Hara, Meg Cabot, Tricia Levenseller, Sandy Hall, Tarun Shanker, Kelly Zekas and Danika Stone.