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View Full Version : Just how bad can a character be?



KCathy
04-13-2009, 11:55 PM
One of my priceless beta readers thought my MC wouldn't be sympathetic if he thought a certain thing and had a certain problem. (If I elaborate we might end up discussing my plot instead of my question.)

How bad/troubled/unreliable/whatever can a character be before you give up on him or her? Can you think of some characters you loved in spite of how screwed up they were? Some characters that you couldn't forgive?

KCathy
04-13-2009, 11:56 PM
To answer my own question, I can't forgive male leads in a romance novel who rape or borderline rape the female lead, no matter how happy they end up later or how "provoked" they were. I'm not forgiving of characters who go off half-cocked a la Hamlet and kill an innocent because they don't bother to get the whole story.

On a much more petty note, sometimes I can't forgive Sandra Brown's characters for being a little wimpy-girly even though I generally enjoy her plotting and the fun wish-fulfillment she provides.

On the other hand, I like "you" in Fight Club. I forgave Jane Austen's Emma for starting the book an obnoxious little snot. I got past Mr. Rochester trying to swindle Jane Eyre into polygamy.

Parametric
04-14-2009, 12:06 AM
Honestly, I can't think of anything that would in itself make me write off a protagonist. I used to think that I'd drop a protagonist the instant he even thought about raping someone, but this week I was totally hooked by a sociopathic torturer who fantasised about raping his love interest. Then I rooted for him to rescue his entire interrogation division (comprised of other sociopathic torturers) from the clutches of the heroic rebels. I was so immersed in his viewpoint, I was outraged by the antagonists' suggestion that maybe they shouldn't have entire divisions devoted to detaining, torturing and killing people.

(I felt a little dirty after the story. :tongue)

shokadh
04-14-2009, 12:12 AM
You have to be true to yourself in your writing. If your MC has a despicable flaw, he is human (and therefore an object of the reader's sympathy). Will all readers sympathize with him/her? Obviously, no. Do you want him/her to show growth in this area and overcome this flaw, or just live with it as insurmountable? Is he redeemable in your mind, despite this flaw? Ultimately, you have to decide who you want him/her to be. If you don't like it, then don't write it. If you do, to heck with everyone else...:D

Shail
04-14-2009, 12:15 AM
I'm a wait and see kind of person. I don't hate any charactor until the end of the book, because I believe in last minuet redemptions.

On the other hand, there have been a few. I recently slogged my way through the Star Wars: Legacies of the Force novels on a dare. I was withholding judgement from the charactor, Jacen, up to the book Sacrifice where he murders his aunt. At that point he got my write off, and I literally ceased to care about what happened in the rest of the books. I finished the series because I hate backing out on a dare.

SPMiller
04-14-2009, 01:51 AM
Honestly, I can't think of anything that would in itself make me write off a protagonist. I used to think that I'd drop a protagonist the instant he even thought about raping someone, but this week I was totally hooked by a sociopathic torturer who fantasised about raping his love interest. Then I rooted for him to rescue his entire interrogation division (comprised of other sociopathic torturers) from the clutches of the heroic rebels. I was so immersed in his viewpoint, I was outraged by the antagonists' suggestion that maybe they shouldn't have entire divisions devoted to detaining, torturing and killing people.

(I felt a little dirty after the story. :tongue)You can turn any character sympathetic if you have the skill to immerse your readers in the character's viewpoint. Why? Because few people truly think they're evil. That's all there is to say about that.

Antiheroes and villain-protagonists are not uncommon.

MrWrite
04-14-2009, 05:25 AM
Honestly, I can't think of anything that would in itself make me write off a protagonist. I used to think that I'd drop a protagonist the instant he even thought about raping someone, but this week I was totally hooked by a sociopathic torturer who fantasised about raping his love interest. Then I rooted for him to rescue his entire interrogation division (comprised of other sociopathic torturers) from the clutches of the heroic rebels. I was so immersed in his viewpoint, I was outraged by the antagonists' suggestion that maybe they shouldn't have entire divisions devoted to detaining, torturing and killing people.

(I felt a little dirty after the story. :tongue)

That shows a lot of skill to make a reader actually care about a character like that!

jodiodi
04-14-2009, 05:41 AM
I wrote an unpublished series of stories and introduced a character in book 3 who had absolutely no redeeming qualities. He believed he had a divine right to do as he pleased. He killed, tortured, raped and oppressed his people and any of those he conquered.

Everyone who read the works loathed and despised this character and when he finally got his in the fifth tale, it was a satisfying end to him. The Hero and his friends buried him alive in a deep pit with no food or water. He was immortal and couldn't die so he would spend eternity sealed up with no way to slake his hunger or his thirst. For someone who wielded absolute power over his people, it was a fitting end for him.

ETA: Plus, it gave me an opening for possibly doing a sequel with him centuries later and even crazier and meaner when he's 'accidentally' released.

Bukarella
04-14-2009, 05:43 AM
I think I can learn to like any character, except for a male within a romance novel that is supposed to turn out the main love interest.

Samantha's_Song
04-14-2009, 09:33 AM
I don't have to actually like a character to read the whole novel, it's just the same as in real life, I don't have to like the people I interact with.
In fact, not long ago, I beta read a novel about a lawyer (who seemed more like a private eye.) and I didn't like him at all, he had not one redeeming trait, but it didn't stop me reading the story until the end.

Mad Queen
04-14-2009, 11:13 AM
As long as you write your bad character as a bad character, there's no limit on how bad he can be. By that I mean you shouldn't try to make excuses for his faults nor lead the reader to believe he's a great hero. Make sure he reaps what he has sown. In my stories, a rapist would never get true love from a mentally healthy woman, but I would let him try, maybe even believe he got it.

DarkDesireX
04-14-2009, 12:12 PM
The only, only thing that can make me give up on a character is inconsistancy. You can't be all sweet one minute and then be a total dick without there being some cause for the shift.

In addition, I'm big on the mentality of villians. I strongly believe that no one just wakes up and decides to be evil. They all believe they are doing the right thing (the Joker notwithstanding) and I like a villian who I can understand.

For example, I was watching Law and Order SVU today and there was this child molestor. Okay, child molester, automatic hatred for the guy. But the guy wasn't just in it for the kicks. He didn't just WANT to destroy little boys, he had a trauma in his childhood that TURNED him into a monster.

I hope that makes sense. Of course, some people are just psychopaths, but not having a conscience at ALL is a medical problem and it again goes to understanding.

seun
04-18-2009, 04:29 PM
The only, only thing that can make me give up on a character is inconsistancy. You can't be all sweet one minute and then be a total dick without there being some cause for the shift.

In addition, I'm big on the mentality of villians. I strongly believe that no one just wakes up and decides to be evil. They all believe they are doing the right thing (the Joker notwithstanding) and I like a villian who I can understand.

For example, I was watching Law and Order SVU today and there was this child molestor. Okay, child molester, automatic hatred for the guy. But the guy wasn't just in it for the kicks. He didn't just WANT to destroy little boys, he had a trauma in his childhood that TURNED him into a monster.

I hope that makes sense. Of course, some people are just psychopaths, but not having a conscience at ALL is a medical problem and it again goes to understanding.

What about someone who makes a conscious decision to be evil and has no problem with it?

Saskatoonistan
04-18-2009, 05:10 PM
Or a protagonist who heals (good) and kills (bad). I am reconciling this in something I am currently working on.

Zipotes
04-18-2009, 06:01 PM
What about Heathcliff? Hard to like him by the end of the book, but it couldn't have been another way.

dgiharris
04-19-2009, 12:54 AM
How bad/troubled/unreliable/whatever can a character be before you give up on him or her? Can you think of some characters you loved in spite of how screwed up they were? Some characters that you couldn't forgive?

As long as their actions are reasonable, I will bond to them.

I define reasonable as 'logical' based on their circumstances, development, worldbuilding, etc.

For instance, In a fantasy novel I recently read, one character was a savage raping murdering bastard. However, he was tortured for fun when he was a youth by all who loved him.

Therefore, what he became was 'reasonable'. Did that mean I liked him. No. But I bonded to him in the sense that he 'felt real'.

As long as the characters and their corresponding actions are real, then I am with them. Similarly, they can't ignore the obvious logical action.

I'm going to start a thread on this topic, but I recently just finished a novel where the MC keeps ignoring an OBVIOUS action, so much so that I almost threw the book across the room at the halfway point. THis was 'unrealistic' to me. Akin to those horrid teenage slasher films. You know, the one where everyone is getting killed every day by some killer down the street, but hey, "Lets go walk to Jamie's party and take the short cut through the corn fields..."

For me, as long as the actions/reactions are true to the world building, character development, and logical within their respective frame of references, i'm fine.

Mel...

KCathy
04-19-2009, 02:23 AM
What about Heathcliff? Hard to like him by the end of the book, but it couldn't have been another way.

It's funny you should mention him. That's a great example of a book that I absolutely hated because the main characters (Catherine, too, although she has a great name) were melodramatic IDIOTS. I can forgive a lot of things, including murder in some cases, before I can forgive melodrama that ends in tragedy.

Michiru
04-19-2009, 02:55 AM
Disclaimer: The following is totally opinion and observation based.

Personally, I am deeply irritated by characters who are abrasive on the outside but are really softies on the inside (example: Ling from the TV show Ally McBeal). Not because it's a bad idea, but because it's a) way overdone and b) often very obvious the author is begging the viewers/readers to understand that this jerk isn't REALLY such a bad guy.

Let your characters be who they are, and let the audience decide whether or not they like them. You saying that YOU can't forgive certain heroes/heroines is exactly right. Different people will like/dislike heroes based on their own experiences, just like in real life, and as a writer you can't control that. Because my father is capable of being a jerk, I couldn't forgive Prospero from "The Tempest" when he told his daughter he'd hate her if she continued to speak against him. It was my experience with my dad that led to my judgment, and it's how all readers will judge: based on themselves, not on you.

When you try too hard to make a character likable, you wind up with romance novel heroes and heroines who will be forgotten the moment your book is put down. Heathcliff, on the other hand...you might hate him, but you know exactly who he is when his name is brought up. He was memorable, and that's what made Wuthering Heights so good (or at least, one thing).

Chasing the Horizon
04-19-2009, 06:02 AM
If a character is realistic and has reasons for their actions, there's absolutely nothing I can't forgive.