Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blog Chain: Love 'Em or Hate 'Em, Why Do You Read "Em?

Quote of the Day:
Nothing is as important as a likeable narrator. Nothing holds a story together better. ~Ethan Canin

This round it’s my turn to pick the topic. Elana will be the first up, so be sure to head to her blog next.

A week or so ago, a discussion was started in a Young Adult writer group I belong to. The responses got me curious as to how my blog chain buddies would feel. So blog chainers, here is what I’d like to know:

In your reading and writing, which do you prefer – a main character that is intriguing, or one that is likeable? Who are the characters that you love the most? And who are the ones that you love to hate?

To give you some examples, do you prefer your main characters to be the Scarlett O’Hara’s of the world - spoiled, manipulative and conniving? Or do you like the Harry Potter’s – good-natured and kind, despite being picked on?

Now, I’m not talking secondary characters here. Every book is going to have its villain. I mean the main “hero” of the book. This one had me thinking a little bit, because I have always heard that your main character has to be likeable. Who wants to read a story all about a character that no one likes?

Well, after thinking about it for a bit, I decided…a lot of people :) One member of the YA group brought up Scarlett O’Hara. Now, she definitely isn’t what I would call a likeable character. But she was definitely intriguing. ‘Watching’ her get herself into all sorts of interesting situations is just fun. While in my writing I tend to go for the likeable main character, it is sort of fun to follow a completely unlikeable character…just to see what they’ll do next. Sure, I love Cinderella. But I would love to read about the ugly stepsister. It would be very interesting to get into her brain for once and see what’s going on in there.

And of course, I think even the less likeable characters often have some sort of redeeming quality. Even Scarlett pulled her designer boots up by their laces and dug her fingers raw in the onion fields when she had to. She eventually got her crap together without losing any of her spunk. So there is, as in most things, some overlap.

It’s a fine balance between intriguing and just plain detestable, so I imagine unlikeable characters are probably more difficult to write. But I might have to try my hand at it some time. It would be incredible to create a character that from the outside is just horrible…but is someone that people can’t get enough of.

Head on over to Elana’s blog to see her thoughts on likeable vs. intriguing characters!


Jenna said...

Hm. Interesting question.

I'd have to say that if I was going to pick, I'd go with intriguing. Fact is, if a character is intriguing enough, I'm going to like them. But maybe that's just me.

I have two main characters in my novel. They're both pretty intriguing (I think, anyway), but one of them is kind of unlikable for a good bit of the story because of her cynicism and temper. But the way she handles things, or I've heard from my friends, make her a great main character.

So, yeah. I'd have to go with intriguing. Great post! :D

Anonymous said...

OOHH...Nice topic Michelle. Of course, I REALLY hate going last now!!! Hmm, time to think on this one a bit :)

Danyelle said...

For me, if the character intrigues me, I end up liking them. But what is or what isn't intriguing is so subjective.

On the other hand, there's a popular series where I love the writing (it's even in the present tense, and I normally loathe the present tense), but I don't like a single character. Even though the writing is great, I probably won't ever read it again. For me, the characters were all selfish and thoughtless and conniving, not something that intrigues me.

B.J. Anderson said...

To me, they have to be likable. I don't mind reading ones with more "intriguing" main characters once in awhile, but I'm less likely to pick up a sequel about that character.

Sandra said...

Good topic! I would say that the most memorable characters are a little bit of both.

Jessica said...

I def. prefer intriguing. :-) And spunky.

Yamile said...

I've realized I prefer likable characters. I liked Scarlett O'Hara a lot, maybe because in spite of her bad character traits, she also had a lot of things in her that I like about people; she had "gumption" in her own words, and I like that.
I think I like some characters because first they intrigue me, and when I get to know them, I end up liking them.
I know he's not the main character, but Snape (from Harry Potter in case anyone doesn't know who he is) for example, was VERY intriguing to me since the beginning of the series. As I got to know him better, I ended up loving his character, and I cried (I still do when I re-read HP #7) when I learned things about his past that made him who he was.
So yes, the character needs to be both, intriguing and likable.

Annie Louden said...

Ooh, this is a good topic. I will have to quickly think of examples of characters.

Usually the only main characters I don't like are boring and/or spineless. We had to read The Hobbitt in 7th grade, and I HATED it, because I couldn't stand Bilbo. I didn't care if he lived or died or solved any quest. To me, he was just a whiner.

Carolyn Kaufman said...

The only character I can say I have unequivocally hated with such a passion I find nothing redeeming about the books is Thomas Covenant. (As in Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. I even tried to re-read the first book years later, thinking perhaps I'd misunderstood Thomas Covenant, and was left instead wondering why I'd wasted even a minute of my life with that dren.)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Ooh this is such a timely question for me as I've been getting comments back from some of my beta readers that my MC is not likeable enough and it is something that I've been concerned about. I will definitely be reading everyones responses extra-closely on this one!

Kat Harris said...

Good question, Michelle. I'm going to have to do some thinking before I tackle this post.