Monday, August 30, 2010

Unlikable Chracters

I'm currently reading a good book with a totally . . . unlikable character. So far, almost finished, and there's not one thing I like about the character.

Nada!

Nothing!

Zippo!

In fact, this unlikable character, at least for me, totally pulls me out of the story every single time I have to read from this character's perspective.

I hate being pulled out of a story. Hate! It!

I'm pulled out of the story every single time I must endure this character's perspective.

Thankfully, the perspectives are just a bit here and there, but . . . I'm still jarred out of the story.

Now, there are characters I don't like, that I hate - The Dursleys and Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series. Oooooh, Dolores made me grind my teeth, but . . . she never pulled me out of the story. She never made me skip passages of narrative because her character was so unlikable.

I'm not even sure the character in the current book I'm reading is necessary . . . other than to irritate me, which some people (probably my sisters - ha) would say is a good thing.

What about you? How do you deal with unlikable characters in books you are reading . . . and writing? How unlikable do you make them? Do they serve a purpose?

As for me, yeah, I have some unlikable characters. Sometimes they are needed as a balance, a counterpoint to the hero/heroine.

If no obvious purpose is served, then what's the point?

If the unlikable character pulls the reader out of the story time and time again, what's the point?

Thoughts? Answers??

S

11 comments:

Misha said...

I'm currently writing my fantasy's one main character to be relatively unlikable, but I'm letting other people read the parts I wrote from his perspective to see if they get pulled out of the story.

I'm hoping that I can keep them in by making them wonder what his deal is. And to see whether his long-suffering best friend will eventually get round to kicking his arrogant little butt.

I am probably going to be cut and dried for uttering this heresy, but my runaway most hated character that I've ever read was Catherine in Wuthering Heights. The story wasn't even told from her perspective and I was constanly jarred out of it. Still, the story was saved by the atmosphere that ms. Bronte created.

If the character serves no purpose, and he's unlikable, he should have no place in the story. generally if he has a reason, I learn to tolerate him. Fortunately I have plans for my character...

Jan Rider Newman said...

If any character, likeable or not, serves no purpose, he/she should be yanked like a weed. I just finished a book with two unlikeable main characters, but they had redeeming qualities, were interesting, and were necessary to the plot. They had dimension. When I think of unlikeable characters, I think of Rodney McKay in Stargate Atlantis. I stopped watching an otherwise interesting series because that whiney, pompous, cowardly, infuriating idiot was in every single episode and was frequently the main focus of the episodes. No accounting for taste.

Carolyn Kaufman said...

The character I can genuinely say I hate more than any other character I've ever read is Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. He's a Stephen R. Donaldson character, and there is absolutely nothing likable about him. He's a leper, a liar, a rapist, and a general all around jerk.

Oddly, the Covenant Chronicles have done well. I just wish I had some concept of why...

Scott said...

Misha – I think relatively unlikable, or unlikable with a chance for redemption is great. In this instance, I don’t see that happening.

Jan – I agree. Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter served a purpose and, for a brief time, did get what was coming to her. The character in the current book I’m reading, just seems to be there to irritate me . . . and the characters in the book. Go figure.

Carolyn – I think the Covenant Chronicles have done well because of the overall story, rather than the main character. I read the first two series, but not the last.

Indigo said...

I've stopped reading a book due to a character I couldn't relate to in the least. I read for enjoyment, if something delineates from that - I won't finish reading.

I'm not objective to unlikeable characters. However at least give a reasoning, a purpose for the characters perceptions and attitude. (Hugs)Indigo

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

You already know how I feel about unlikeable characters. There has to be a purpose to the character, I agree 100%! Christina in Cinders has been called unlikeable by many, many readers so far, yet people still seem to love that book. That makes me happy because I obviously made her matter even though she's unlikeable.

Elana Johnson said...

There's nothing that causes me to stop reading more than an unlikeable character. For realz.

Robyn Campbell said...

Told ya I'd get by ,uh, er, Friday at MIDNIGHT? I gotta hit the hay, man! ;)

Super post here, my friend. Love, love, love the Scott irritated syndrome. ;)

Unlikable characters to me are like you and I taking shots. We don't want to do it, but we know we have to. It's either that or we die. Unlikable characters make us root for the protags all the more.

Tell me. If this unlikable character so jars you, why do you continue to read this book? Even if the perspectives are just spatters throughout the book, I think it's because even though you don't like this character, still the book is all the more interesting because of him/her.

Talk soon. And only three more weeks until no more diet. Root for me, will ya? Oh, and only a week and a half until the Dolphins begin their storied season. Root for them, will ya??

Scott said...

Indigo - I'm not against unlikeable characters . . . if they serve a purpose. The Dursleys - while I hated them - made me cheer more for Harry when I read the first book. Dolores - in Order of the Phoenix - again, made me cheer for the students, and whoop-whoop when the centaurs carried her off into the forest. Purpose is the key to every charcter in the book . . . at least in my opinion.

Michelle - Christina had some unlikeable qualities, and made some bad choices, but . . . she wasn't 100% unlikeable. She was, in many ways, relatable, which made me keep reading.

Elana - right there with you.

Robyn - I kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened to the other characters. There was one point in the book where the character received a devastating, at least to him, reality check. I didn't feel a bit sorry for him. I should have, but I didn't. I think the main thing that bothered me about the character is that I was constantly pulled out from the flow of reading by his presence. Again, there's a difference between an unlikeable character that serves a purpose, and one that doesn't.

Eric W. Trant said...

There's a difference between an ~unlikeable~ and an ~unloveable~ character.

I can read or write a character I don't ~like~, but who I ~love~.

I can't read a character I do not ~love~.

Here's the difference: Think of the bad guys in Pulp Fiction, Travolta and Jackson. You might not ~like~ them, but you ~love~ them.

See the difference?

Even the unlikeable character needs some reason to be inside the reader's head (i.e. writing from that POV).

Darth Vader. The Devil in Needful Things and Bedazzled.

Oh, my beautiful Elizabeth Hurley.

Make your characters evil, despicable, atrocious and vile, but let us, if you put us inside their head, love them.

We may hate em to love them, but we love to hate em.

- Eric

Robyn Campbell said...

Scott, but to me all unlikable characters serve a purpose in one way or the other. At least all the ones I've ever read.