Monday, May 18, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Loving/Hating Characters

It seems like the Blog Chain keeps coming around faster and faster each time. This round was started by Michelle, who had these questions for us:

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

Annie posted before me. You can find links to all of the Blog Chain members in the sidebar.

When I see either/or questions like the one posted above, for me, I usually have one answer for them: both. When people can argue both sides of an issue, the truth is most often found in the middle. After all, traits like intelligence stem from both nature and nurture, and even light is both a particle and a wave, depending on the type of experiment you run....

Technical Writer Sandra interrupts this blog post to tell Science Geek Sandra: Um, explaining something by using a more complicated analogy only causes confusion.

Science Geek Sandra: But, but, science is cool!

Technical Writer Sandra: Yes, but most people don't know that much about genetics or quantum mechanics. Do you want people to run away from this blog screaming?

Science Geek Sandra: You mean this conversation won't make them run away?


On a serious note, this question presumes that likable characters are bland and intriguing characters aren't nice--like Amelia Sedley and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, respectively. There may be times when you want your protagonist to be likable and ordinary--say, when they're in an intriguing alien world and you want your readers to experience it through your protag. In this case, the protag would be a stand-in for the reader. Or maybe you want to keep some space between your protagonist and your reader to make your hero seem more mysterious, the way A. Conan Doyle use Dr. Watson as a narrator to make Sherlock Holmes seem more extraordinary. In most cases, however, I think you would want your character to be both likable and intriguing, like Wesley in The Princess Bride. After all, as a reader, I don't want to spend hundreds of pages with a character who annoys me (which is why I'm not a big fan of Jane Austen), but if he or she isn't interesting, then that becomes tedious to read too. Perhaps that's why it's so common in SF/fantasy to have an ordinary character discover he/she has extraordinary abilities. And yes, I do the same thing in Across Two Universes.

To make this balancing act even tougher, a protagonist should be likable without being too perfect. Otherwise, he/she feels flat and unrealistic. There's also no room for character development if you start with a perfect character.

I'm having a hard time coming up with favorite and least favorite characters. As I thought about some of the series I've been reading, I realized that I'm losing interest in the lead characters because they're spending too much time on the same problems. For example, a paranormal mystery series I like has a 30-something small town single girl trying to choose between two boyfriends; I feel like this subplot has gone on long enough and that she should choose one. In a science fiction series, the heroine was active in the first couple of books, but now she's been put in a position where her choices are limited and she's not able to show the initiative she did before. Other subplots featuring characters I'm not interested in are taking over her story. I do like Hermonine Granger from the Harry Potter books as I can identify with her. Do I have characters I love to hate? Not really. Besides, a complex, multi-dimensional antagonist is more interesting than a cartoonish villain.

That's all I have to say on this topic. Go check out what Jess has to say. Be sure to come back on June 1, when I get to pick the next blog chain topic!

7 comments:

Michelle McLean said...

Very good points...it is a fine balancing acts and the characters I tend to love the most are those with a little bit of it all :)

And I'm a Hermione Granger fan too :D

Great post!

christinefonseca said...

Great post...and I agree that the truth most often lies in the middle. BTW..I LOVED the little internal dialogue moment :D

christinefonseca said...

Great post...and I agree that the truth most often lies in the middle. BTW..I LOVED the little internal dialogue moment :D

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Technical Writer Sandra, thank you so much for getting Science Geek Sandra under control - I was totally lost with all that particle and wave stuff! ;)

I think both Sandras are right that it is best to find a balance - that intrigueing and likeable don't need to be mutually exclusive ideas.

ElanaJ said...

That conversation with yourself should be recorded and put on the blog for us to hear! That was made of win.

I also agree that if the characters are toying with the same problems over and over it gets tedious. Just pick already! And when the reader can choose, but the MC can't, that's lame.

Great insights!

Annie Louden said...

I really liked what you said about the question presuming that likable characters are bland and intriguing characters aren't nice. Because it certainly doesn't have to be that way.
And, yes, when characters spin their wheels for too long, I lose interest and put the book down.
Nice post!

Kat Harris said...

To make this balancing act even tougher, a protagonist should be likable without being too perfect. Otherwise, he/she feels flat and unrealistic. There's also no room for character development if you start with a perfect character.You hit the nail on the head here.

Great post.

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