Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Preparing packet #2

Packet 2 is due next week-the 11th-and I have one essay left.  My first essay was entitled:  I Hate This Character.  So Why Am I Still Reading?  I asked the question, does the reader have to like the protagonist?  So many times, we writers hear how we need to make the protagonist "likable", "identifiable", or "interesting".  I agree the main character needs to be interesting, especially if he's not easy to like or identify with.  Emotion is such an important part of every story, and we must feel something for the characters or we won't bother reading the story.  But can we hate that main character?  

I think it's ok to hate the character, as long as it's a believable character and we hate them the way we'd hate a person in real life.  If we hate them because they are too flat, or they say things that don't fit with their personality, then we will stop reading.  But if we hate them because we believe they are doing/saying horrible things, and we believe they really would say/do these things, then we, as readers, are eager to keep reading to see what they will say/do next.  Does that make sense?  

I used the example of Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.  His main character, Cole, is despicable, but we believe he would be that way because of his home life.  The motivation makes sense with his personality.  Still, the reader Hates him until he changes about midway through the book.  The reader doesn't really sympathize with him until he begins to realize how awful he's been.

In my MG novel, the main character says and does horrible things because she is so angry and sad and guilty over the loss of her sister.  I think, I hope, I've painted her in a realistic fashion and that readers will stick around to see if she can get past all these emotions.  In fact, my advisor read a particular scene and said she wanted to slug my character.  I think that's good, because it means she believes in this character.  I think any time we can get the reader to feel a strong emotion about our characters because of who they are or what they've done in the story, we have accomplished our goal of capturing the reader's attention.

Do you have any unlikable characters in your stories?


PJ Hoover said...

My only unlikeable characters seem to be the bad guys.
But it seems invoking emotion is the key aspect is keeping people reading. Good emotion or bad!

Sheri said...

Mine too PJ...

I had to read someone's script once whose MC was just a horrible person. I hated him! We all (in my group)hated him! We actually told the writer, at one of our meetings; give us a reason to want to read more! And I think that is what it all comes down to. If you are going to make a despicable MC, then s/he needs to be mitigated right away. We need a reason to continue reading, or at least a spark here and there to ignite our imagination that there is more than meets the eye.

The truly evil character we love to hate, have their place as antagonists, but even they need to be mitigated too.

david elzey said...

Ooo, good essay topic!

I have to admit, essays are my weakness, and I struggle to find things that move me to write about them.

I haven't wanted to write a main character that I hate, but one the reader might hate... at first. She isn't just unreliable, she's pathological in her lying, and in multiple perspectives we see how her manipulations hurt other people but in the end (I hope) she retains a shred of sympathy for the reader who will come to accept that she has problems beyond her own control.

it's tough, and it does come down to making the character believable. It's not my current project, but something I pull out every now and then and hammer away at.

Dawn Buthorn said...

PJ and Sheri-I agree, truly evil characters have their place as villains, but protagonists have to give the reader a clue that there's some hope for change.

David, I don't hate my character because I know deep down she's just a really angry/sad kid. But readers will hate her, or at least the things she says and does. This was the first essay that I really felt I learned from. Hopefully Sarah will like it too!