As a reader, when I pick up a book, the first thing I look for is at least one character in the cast that I can relate to. They don't have to be like me, but I do want to have some point of reference that I understand. It can even be something basic, like a woman who puts her family first, and the conflict involves the outside world telling her that other things are more important. Or it may be a person who shares the same interests as me.
As an author, I like to dig deep and get to know the people in my stories. I often do extensive character interviews to find out what happened in their past to motivate them to do the things they do in the story. This is generally where I find my conflict that creates the foundation for everything else. Doing this helps me write the proposal that my agent uses to sell the book to a publisher. Occasionally, the people in the story do something unexpected as I write, so I may even change things a bit, but I do my best to keep them (mostly) on track, or I risk going off on a self-indulgent tangent.
Even though I've lost most of my southern accent, I'm still a southern girl deep down. I love grits, fried okra, and hot buttered biscuits, and I think with a southern accent.
In Missing Dixie, the first book in my Uptown Belles series with Charisma House, I've taken an Alabama girl out of a small town in the South and planted her in New York City. I think that alone offers a healthy dose of conflict. I've added a powerful reason for her to stay away from her hometown for a while and a born-and-raised-in-New-York man as the hero to add more ways to expose the heroine's vulnerabilities and nuances.
I enjoy reading other books set in the South, but I also like getting to know people from places I've never visited. The key is to find some common ground so I can feel what the characters feel and care enough to go on this 300-or-so-page journey with them. Although I prefer a female main character who loves the Lord, I'm willing to give a guy a chance if he loves his cat. And for me to pick up that author's next book, I need to see character growth with the main person in the story learning something that matters to me.
What character traits do you look for in stories?