Sunday, July 14, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Making Alienating Characters Likeable by Catherine Astolfo

Catherine Astolfo, Author

Mystery author Catherine Astolfo has just launched her newest novel, SWEET KAROLINE. In her newest thriller, she challenges herself to create an alienating character that readers will care about. Catherine has written many award-winning short stories and novels. I encountered her first when I read the Emily Taylor mystery, THE BRIDGEMAN, that kept me up all night to finish.

In the following guest post, she ponders how to make an alienating character—likeable.

Making Alienating Characters Likeable
By Catherine Astolfo

How on earth could I make my character likeable when the first sentence of SWEET KAROLINE goes like this: “I met Ethan on the day that I killed Karoline”?

It’s okay for Dexter; they hired a good-looking, charming actor to captivate the audience. Although my character is beautiful, she’s inside a book, not smiling at you in high definition. Would readers like my Anne?

One of a writer’s primary goals is to ensure that the main character is someone readers can care about. If you don’t give a hoot whether the protagonist lives, dies, achieves her goals, or solves the puzzle, you won’t keep reading. Even if the character is an anti-hero like Dexter, he must appeal to you in some way.

I began to think about all the times in my life when I heard someone say, “I could just kill…him/her.” I knew they didn’t mean it—most of the time. Ending a fellow human being’s life is abhorrent to most of us. When we’re angry, we sometimes want to inflict the worst thing ever on the object of our distress. The worst thing ever would be murdering that person. People who are forced to kill in war, for instance, very often suffer posttraumatic stress disorder.

What would happen if I said in anger, “Oh go drown yourself in the lake” and my target did exactly that? How would I feel? Would I consider myself a murderer? Would I have a mental breakdown like Anne does in the first couple of chapters? PSTD perhaps, even if I only imagined the accident?

What would happen if I dreamt of someone’s untimely death? Let’s say I had a particularly horrible boss so my subconscious conjured up a bungee jumping incident. Next staff bonding event involves a bungee…

Unless, of course, the character is a psychopath. That certainly puts a different stamp on things. We would probably agree that Dexter hasn’t got much of a conscience. My Anne is smart, charming, and has been terribly hurt. She suffers enormously from the “incident”, to the point of an emotional collapse, even though Karoline’s death was ruled a suicide. Perhaps Anne is upset, traumatized and feeling guilty because she didn’t prevent it. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be quite so devastated.


I think I might have accomplished my goal, though: here’s what Mel Bradshaw, author of Fire on the Runway, says about Sweet Karoline: “Never have I encountered a narrative voice that alternates more deftly between alienating and enticing."

For all things about author Catherine Astolfo, and to buy her books, visit her at

About Catherine Astolfo

Catherine is a past President of Crime Writers of Canada and a Derrick Murdoch Award winner (2012). She was a Zonta Club 2012 Nominee for Women in Achievement.

Writing is Catherine’s passion. She can recall inventing fantasy stories for her classmates in Grade Three. Her short stories and poems have been published in a number of literary Canadian presses. In 2005, she won a Brampton Arts Award. Her short stories won the Bloody Words Short Story Award (second and first) in 2009 and 2010. She won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Best Short Crime Story Award in 2012.

Catherine’s novel series, The Emily Taylor Mysteries, are published by Imajin Books and are optioned for film by Sisbro & Co. Inc. SWEET KAROLINE was released on July 14, 2013.

Purchase Catherine’s books at

If I knew what I know now, would I have searched so hard for the truth?

Anne Williams says she killed her best friend, Karoline. But did she? Or is there more to Karoline's mysterious death than meets the eye?

Anne embarks on a compelling journey to discover her past and exposes an unusual history, horrific crimes and appalling betrayals. Through unexpected turns and revelations, Anne learns about love, family and who she really is. Can she survive the truth?


Twitter @cathyastolfo


  1. Only a seasoned writer could have written such a book, Cathy! It's masterful.

    1. Thanks, Melodie! When you get to the fifth book, I think a writer ought to know what she's doing. But Sweet Karoline was such a stream of consciousness - main character Anne just took over.

  2. That's the absolute truth, Melodie! 'Sweet Karoline' was such a great read for me. Cathy is a real-life master storyteller.