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LJD
10-25-2012, 02:54 AM
There are regularly comments on AW that say something to the effect of: "Your character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting."

Here's the thing. As a reader, I am not much of a fan of the interesting-but-not-likeable MC. When giving reasons for why I don't like a particular book, this is often one I give. And when I read reviews on Goodreads, many readers will make similar comments. If I don't like the MC, I don't really care what happens to him/her.

One example: The Corrections (Franzen). I could not stand this book because of the characters, and the vast majority of the negative reviews give this as one of the reasons for the low rating. But would I say they were interesting characters? Yes. I just hated every single one. My dad gave this as the reason he didn't like Lolita. Unlikeable characters seems to be a common complaint about J.K. Rowlings' The Casual Vacancy.


So I'm wondering:
1) Is this often a reason for you not to enjoy a book, like it frequently is for me?
2) What are some books you enjoyed with unlikeable characters? Maybe I need to try some different ones.
3) Are there certain genres/types of stories in which an unlikeable MC might work better than others? I'm thinking it would be especially tough to pull off in romance.

But I guess what I'm really trying to figure out is:
Does "The character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting" represent how the majority of readers feel? Or: does such a character significanlty limit the audience of your book?

quicklime
10-25-2012, 03:01 AM
There are regularly comments on AW that say something to the effect of: "Your character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting."

Here's the thing. As a reader, I am not much of a fan of the interesting-but-not-likeable MC. When giving reasons for why I don't like a particular book, this is often one I give. And when I read reviews on Goodreads, many readers will make similar comments. If I don't like the MC, I don't really care what happens to him/her.




about half those readers STILL watch House, read 50 Shades, etc. The other half weren't the target audience.

Look, you're never going to please all people. And maybe YOU don't like an unlikeable character.....which is certainly good reason not to write them. And perhaps some of those books didn't make that character interesting, which, as you noted above, was the conditional....

But you'd have to have a pretty limited base of experience to not realize there are a ton of books and films with unlikeable, but utterly fascinating, characters.....many of them very popular.

Dexter
Hannibal
House
Sherlock Holmes
Annie Wilkes in "Misery"
Dorian Gray, and his mentor, Lord Henry

etc. etc. etc.


P.S. I'm reading Lolita right now.....I find the guy VERY readable despite being unlikeable. As I said, you won't please everyone, but your tastes don't negate mine, and vice versa. You can't please everyone. Also, "likeable" is relative.....I certainly don't "like" pedophilia, but Humbert is engaging for the things about himself he does understand and the things he's oblivious to--I find him to be a fascinating character study, even though I don't want to invite him over for a beer.

Little Ming
10-25-2012, 03:11 AM
...
But I guess what I'm really trying to figure out is:
Does "The character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting" represent how the majority of readers feel? Or: does such a character significanlty limit the audience of your book?

There is no such thing as a "majority of readers." Even the most beloved book in the world (if there is such a thing) will never get a "majority of readers" to like it.

And "interesting" is not a substitute for "likeable," it's the bare minimum. "Likeable" is extra.

Kerosene
10-25-2012, 03:16 AM
So I'm wondering:
1) Is this often a reason for you not to enjoy a book, like it frequently is for me?

To not like a character? Yes. I wouldn't continue reading if I didn't like the character at all.
An interesting, but unlikable characters. Hard to tell. I do read for interest, but a totally unlikable character is dead to me, thus I don't read.


2) What are some books you enjoyed with unlikeable characters? Maybe I need to try some different ones.

Hmm... who quicklime said. But, there is a line between unlikable, and unlikable who you feel for.


3) Are there certain genres/types of stories in which an unlikeable MC might work better than others? I'm thinking it would be especially tough to pull off in romance.

...ah... no. Most modern writing takes place as close to the characters as possible. There are some rare, and valuable examples, but they are different.


Does "The character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting" represent how the majority of readers feel? Or: does such a character significanlty limit the audience of your book?

I think it's more: "This character doesn't hold any redeeming qualities that I find attractive, so I don't like them"


I really can't see how you label a character "unlikable" unless they were designed to be hated.

Take House for example.
He's an anti-hero, who just wants to do what the hell he wants. He places himself in a position to peak his curiosity, but to slightly help people.
His redeeming qualities come from his weakness, piled on weakness (which makes a character feel more real), coupled with his hidden, willingness to help others. All the while, he acts strong, hiding everything away to not appear weak before others.
All of his qualities reflect human nature, and thus he's not unlikable.



Most readers don't like a character, because they simply don't feel for them. And that's the writer's fault.
Every character has a redeeming quality to them, and the reader wishes to find that. Interesting, unlikable or not, they need some redeeming quality to bring the reader closer. If that isn't brought up, nor does the reader have the faintest clue that it might come up, it falls to the author's failure.



This is all coming from my WIP.

I've got 2 MC.
One is likable to the letter.
The other is hated by the world, and forces people to hate him, but for a reason. He's got heavy reasons for this, that might reflect back to the reader.


My thoughts.

leahzero
10-25-2012, 04:18 AM
I don't like Humbert Humbert, but I sympathize with him. That's the genius of Lolita. If it works on you, you'll end up sympathizing with a monster.

Sympathetic != likable.

kuwisdelu
10-25-2012, 04:21 AM
I certainly don't "like" pedophilia, but Humbert is engaging for the things about himself he does understand and the things he's oblivious to--I find him to be a fascinating character study, even though I don't want to invite him over for a beer.

Really? As long as you don't have a young daughter in the house, he seems like he'd be awesome to have a beer with.

SomethingOrOther
10-25-2012, 05:03 AM
I certainly don't "like" pedophilia

hebephilia*

I guess you could say this correction is very...

(•_•)
( •_•)>⌐■-■
(⌐■_■)

...minor.

blacbird
10-25-2012, 05:10 AM
But I guess what I'm really trying to figure out is:
Does "The character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting" represent how the majority of readers feel? Or: does such a character significanlty limit the audience of your book?

What you've expressed is your personal taste in reading, nothing more. As others have noted, examples abound. Another good one would be the irascible, arrogant, stingy, stuffy, pompous agoraphobic detective Nero Wolfe.

Personally, I think a character lacking in any discernible flaws (a Mary Sue, if you wish) is much more likely to limit readership.

caw

buz
10-25-2012, 05:31 AM
So I'm wondering:
1) Is this often a reason for you not to enjoy a book, like it frequently is for me?
2) What are some books you enjoyed with unlikeable characters? Maybe I need to try some different ones.
3) Are there certain genres/types of stories in which an unlikeable MC might work better than others? I'm thinking it would be especially tough to pull off in romance.


It depends...:D

I'm not sure. I find that most characters I don't like are also boring to me. Magically! ;) I'm not sure you can totally extricate boringness/interestingness from likability. Or define either.

If I don't like the main character, I'm probably not going to like the book. But whether I like the character or not has nothing to do with how objectively "likable" they are (assuming there is such a thing). Holden Caulfield annoyed the piss out of me, but is he unlikable? Darth Vader is evil, but who dislikes him?

I can, however, feel lukewarm about an MC and still really like the book. Lord of the Flies, for example. The Book of Lost Things, also.



Dexter
Hannibal
House
Sherlock Holmes
Annie Wilkes in "Misery"
Dorian Gray, and his mentor, Lord Henry


Huh.

To me, those characters are likable. Well, Dexter is. House is. Sherlock Holmes is. I'm not familiar enough with the others to say. (I've seen Silence of the Lambs...I guess I wouldn't call Hannibal in that "likable" but I don't dislike him either.)

For me, in my brain, "unlikable" is "obnoxious and unsympathetic and not that interesting", not "they do bad stuff." I can easily have sympathy for Dexter and I don't find him obnoxious. Anakin Skywalker? Obnoxious. Then he turns into Darth Vader and he's awesome. And of course there's Jar Jar, who's one of the good guys, but the good guy you wanna shoot in the face. Everyone in A Separate Peace? Bleah. I wouldn't define Gene or Phineas as fundamentally unlikable but I really didn't like 'em.

"Likable" is quite a broad and nonspecific term. :D What is meant by unlikable?

(I don't know about the genre question...)

LJD
10-25-2012, 05:51 AM
The examples above do seem to fall into one of the following:

1) House, Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes: very clever MC, and the book/show is about the MC using his cleverness to solve problems.

2) Dexter, Hannibal, Annie Wilkes (?): serial killers.


Which is sort of an answer to my third question.

So anything that doesn't fit into those two categories would be of particular interest :)


I did manage to come up with a book I liked despite the unlikeable protagonist: A Confederacy of Dunces. I guess humor can occasionally overcome this for me...

rwm4768
10-25-2012, 07:51 AM
House and Sherlock Holmes I liked. Nero Wolfe...not so much. I found him to be the most annoying and rude of the three.

Now, if you're talking about unlikeable main characters, you should read the Thomas Covenant books. I should have quit after the rape scene, but I was hoping there would be some redemption for the character. There wasn't. And from what I've heard about the rest of the series, he doesn't really grow.

KawaiiTimes
10-25-2012, 08:16 AM
1) Is this often a reason for you not to enjoy a book, like it frequently is for me?

I like to hate characters as much as I like to love them.


2) What are some books you enjoyed with unlikeable characters? Maybe I need to try some different ones.

I can't think of many off the top of my head, but one for sure is Adventures of the Artificial Woman by Thomas Berger. I absolutely did not like the MC Ellery Pierce. He was a douchewhistle. (Am I allowed to compare a character to a hybrid feminine hygiene product/musical device here? Oh well it's typed. Write me up if you have to.)


3) Are there certain genres/types of stories in which an unlikeable MC might work better than others? I'm thinking it would be especially tough to pull off in romance.

I have disliked characters across genres. A romantic character who is also a floozy is one I might not like, but I'd probably enjoy following his/her escapades and the aftermath of their choices.


But I guess what I'm really trying to figure out is:
Does "The character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting" represent how the majority of readers feel? Or: does such a character significanlty limit the audience of your book?

I am certainly not part of the majority.

jjdebenedictis
10-25-2012, 08:50 AM
If I truly do not like a character, then I can't very well enjoy a book where I'm in their head most of the time.

But when they're just characters in a book, I have liked some damned horrible people. In fact, I tend to gravitate toward the gleeful villains and the cranky-pants heroes--there's something about a person who doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks of them that I find very appealing.

And on the flip side, I have intensely disliked characters who were clearly written to be likeable and awesome.

Whether a character resonates with you is very, very personal. It depends quite sensitively on the exact configuration of your history, your id, and your moral code.

meowzbark
10-25-2012, 10:19 AM
There are regularly comments on AW that say something to the effect of: "Your character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting."

Here's the thing. As a reader, I am not much of a fan of the interesting-but-not-likeable MC. When giving reasons for why I don't like a particular book, this is often one I give. And when I read reviews on Goodreads, many readers will make similar comments. If I don't like the MC, I don't really care what happens to him/her.

One example: The Corrections (Franzen). I could not stand this book because of the characters, and the vast majority of the negative reviews give this as one of the reasons for the low rating. But would I say they were interesting characters? Yes. I just hated every single one. My dad gave this as the reason he didn't like Lolita. Unlikeable characters seems to be a common complaint about J.K. Rowlings' The Casual Vacancy.


So I'm wondering:
1) Is this often a reason for you not to enjoy a book, like it frequently is for me?
2) What are some books you enjoyed with unlikeable characters? Maybe I need to try some different ones.
3) Are there certain genres/types of stories in which an unlikeable MC might work better than others? I'm thinking it would be especially tough to pull off in romance.

But I guess what I'm really trying to figure out is:
Does "The character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting" represent how the majority of readers feel? Or: does such a character significanlty limit the audience of your book?

1) My non-likeable character is much different than someone else's idea of a non-likeable character. If the plot is good, I will still read the book.

2) I often prefer the villains over the heroes in novels, so my suggestions might not work for you.

3) Horror. Paranormal. One of the recent books I've read had a female lead character who "played" these two guys. I've read books about murderers, satanists, and druggies...some people might think they're unlikeable, while I think they are "colorful".

quicklime
10-25-2012, 04:02 PM
The examples above do seem to fall into one of the following:

1) House, Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes: very clever MC, and the book/show is about the MC using his cleverness to solve problems.

2) Dexter, Hannibal, Annie Wilkes (?): serial killers.


Which is sort of an answer to my third question.

So anything that doesn't fit into those two categories would be of particular interest :)


I did manage to come up with a book I liked despite the unlikeable protagonist: A Confederacy of Dunces. I guess humor can occasionally overcome this for me...

I'm thinking there's quite a few in classical lit others might be able to help with, Ahab was not especially likeable as I recall though, and in Agyar the MC reforms over time but starts off as pretentious, manipulative, and not above hitting women.....still read the rest of the book, and it is one of my favorite vampire books. And note in setting up your false dichotomy you're already ignoring one of your own examples, Humbert Humbert. He was neither a serial killer nor a genius.

quicklime
10-25-2012, 04:02 PM
Really? As long as you don't have a young daughter in the house, he seems like he'd be awesome to have a beer with.

I do, and she's twelve.

Beyond that, he'd absolutely be interesting to do a bit of amateur head-peeping with.

Mr Flibble
10-25-2012, 04:54 PM
I think it depends on what is unlikeable about the character, and whether they have any redeeming features - someone without any is as flat as someone with no flaws, to my mind (Though it can work - Patrick Bateman springs to mind, but that's kind of like watching a train wreck...).

House is an irascible bastard, but he's smart and he's bloody funny too, so he gets forgiven to an extent because he's fun (well, a certain kind of fun..).

Hannibal was a serial killer, but he had some very smart observations, and had charisma.

Then it becomes the lovable (kinda..) rogue thing. You know the guy does bad things, but you're enjoying the ride - maybe enjoying the fact they can do what you wish you could (snark at your boss or whatever) - so you don't get off at the next stop.

Rhoda Nightingale
10-25-2012, 05:16 PM
Interesting discussion...

I think "unlikeable" is rather broad here. What I like about a character isn't always what I'd like in a real life human being I'd want to be friends with. Characters don't have to be good people.

"Interesting" is also rather broad, in that what holds my interest as a reader won't always be the same for the next guy.

"Memorable" is a good quality to have in a character, I think. Someone who keeps readers going on to the next page to see what they'll do next, even if it's terrible. Patrick Bateman is a good example, although I've only seen the movie so I can't speak for how the prose works--totally evil, not a good guy by any stretch of the imagination, but he holds your interest. You're not really supposed to "like" him, I don't think, but you're supposed to be invested enough in his story that you stick around long enough to see how it ends.

Alex DeLarge--same thing. Horrible human being, but he's clever and witty and weirdly charming. He holds people's attention.

Those are both villain protagonists, but you get the idea.

Jamesaritchie
10-25-2012, 05:41 PM
Likable, no. Empathetic, yes. House is completely unlikable, but he's extremely empathetic.

Phaeal
10-25-2012, 06:00 PM
TV Dexter is extremely likeable. One, we know the hideous trauma he sustained as a very young child, which has shaped his dark impulses. Two, though he used to think himself incapable of love, he's been proven wrong many times. Three, he's a sweetheart to children. Four, he only kills other killers. Five, he cleans up after himself. Six, he brings doughnuts to work.

I won't read a book with a thoroughly unlikeable MC, but that as often means monotonously whiny and self-obsessed and passive to me as, oh say, a serial killer.

;)

hester
10-25-2012, 06:00 PM
An "unlikeable" hero/heroine may become relatable (and therefore compelling) if there's something in his/her makeup that strikes a chord with the reader (think Amazing Amy in "Gone Girl.")

Putputt
10-25-2012, 08:02 PM
So I'm wondering:
1) Is this often a reason for you not to enjoy a book, like it frequently is for me?
2) What are some books you enjoyed with unlikeable characters? Maybe I need to try some different ones.
3) Are there certain genres/types of stories in which an unlikeable MC might work better than others? I'm thinking it would be especially tough to pull off in romance.

But I guess what I'm really trying to figure out is:
Does "The character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting" represent how the majority of readers feel? Or: does such a character significanlty limit the audience of your book?

I guess it depends on what makes a character likeable or unlikeable. Some people like characters who are flawed, others prefer characters who are straight-up good or evil. I am one of those who prefer flawed characters who make mistakes, so I find perfect characters unbearable and WILL stop reading a book if the MC is too much of a Mary/Gary Sue.

To answer your second question, there are plenty of books I've enjoyed with flawed characters.

GRRM's ASOIAF has a huge cast of characters, every one of whom is majorly flawed in some way. My favorite character of his is Tyrion Lannister, an A-hole with a heart of gold.

Joe Abercrombie is another writer whose characters are often selfishly motivated and do despicable things...but I find myself empathizing with them.

The book Shantaram suffers somewhat from purple prose, but I found the humor and the characters in it engaging enough to keep reading. The main character is a criminal who broke out of prison and escaped to India, where he finds himself tangled with the Indian underworld. Many of the major characters are criminals who do horrible things, but once again, I found myself empathizing with many of them.

And if you haven't already seen it, do watch a couple episodes of Breaking Bad. The writers did an excellent job of showing the process of turning a good man into a villain. The side characters are amazingly complex and very well-done too. Jesse, the MC's sidekick, is such a great example of someone who isn't likeable (he's a druggie, the way he talks grates on my ears, he does the stuuuupidest things that get them in the worst trouble)...but most of the time, I just want to give him a hug.

I'm not sure about unlikeable characters in romance as I don't really read that genre, but the examples I've given span a number of different genres. I may be wrong, but maybe people who read romance look for heroes and heroines they can fall in love with, so this might not work well in romance. And lastly, like others have said, it's really a matter of personal preference. I'm a huge fan of Black and Gray Morality (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlackAndGrayMorality), so I much prefer conflicted characters. Different strokes for different folks..!

gothicangel
10-25-2012, 08:25 PM
I've just finished reading The Satanic Verses, Saladin and Gabreel are both utterly unlikeable characters, but I was hooked.

What I think you are looking for is reassurance that you preference, is the 'right' preference.

Kitty Pryde
10-29-2012, 06:06 AM
I second the suggestion for Breaking Bad (even though it's a tv show). You see why the good guys go bad, and you're rooting for them every step of the way. Then they become the bad guys amongst a bunch of REALLY REALLY BAD guys, so they are practically decent by default. Amazing show.

A few books I really like with horrible unlikable MCs:

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester--a sci-fi classic! Unrepentant douche saves all of humanity in an effort to save his own butt.
Slice of Cherry-weird YA rural fantasy about two fairly bitchy serial killer sisters.

jaksen
10-29-2012, 04:34 PM
One of my fav. books is 'Gone With the Wind.' But I don't like Scarlet O'Hara. Just don't. My fav. character is the wishywashy Melanie Wilkes, who we eventually learn has an amazing strength of character.

But Scarlet is a survivor, and she's damn interesting.

I still don't like her.

Phaeal
10-29-2012, 05:55 PM
I like both Scarlett and Melanie, each steely (magnolia) strong in her own way.

And for the same reason I like Scarlett, I love Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair. Her counterpart, Amelia, actually IS wishy-washy, a clinging vine as Thackerey characterizes her, but this makes for a delicious contrast between the two female leads.

Perfectly balanced between likeable and unlikeable, for me, is Mary Crawford in Austen's Mansfield Park. This is a great sort of character to stir into a plot, as it can cause a much more unsettling kind of havoc than a baldly evil character.

Baldly evil and unlikeable: Okay, I hate him. Now he bores me.

ARoyce
10-29-2012, 06:20 PM
Heck, Chuck Palahniuk has practically made a career of "unlikeable" characters...but they're still compelling. His writing doesn't appeal to everyone, but I know lots of people who are huge fans of his.

For some people, such characters may be fascinating because they are so outside the norm, because readers can't wait to see what they do next, or because they do want a glimpse into the mind of someone so creepy/unusual/damaged, etc.

Personally, I find I can't stomach POVs that put me in the mind of someone abusive if it's graphic and presented as appealing. But that's me.

I can easily read and enjoy POVs and main characters that are outside of the norm and critical of society or ones that are dangerous but torn because of their own self-awareness. I personally have trouble with the ones that revel in their evil or that call readers to revel in it with the character.

BUT there are plenty of readers out there...with lots of different tastes and appeals.

Emermouse
10-30-2012, 04:33 AM
Even after reading chapters from her perspective, I still don't like Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire and indeed, she's on my list of characters I'll cheer for if she dies, but at the same time, George RR Martin is able to show just how she got to where she is and while I still don't like her, I can see why is the way she is.

Of course, Petyr Baelish=total badass even though he has that pervy obsession with Sansa Stark. Again, I don't really like him as in a "root for him to win" sort of way, but he's such a Magnificent Bastard, I love every minute of him.

bearilou
10-30-2012, 04:45 PM
Here's the thing. As a reader, I am not much of a fan of the interesting-but-not-likeable MC. When giving reasons for why I don't like a particular book, this is often one I give. And when I read reviews on Goodreads, many readers will make similar comments. If I don't like the MC, I don't really care what happens to him/her.

You aren't alone, LJD. I'm the same way. If I'm going to be spending the entire book with a character, I, as a personal preference, have to like them, it doesn't matter how 'interesting' they are.

I don't spend time with people I don't like, no matter how interesting they are so I'm damn sure not doing it with characters in books I'm reading in my leisure time.



So I'm wondering:
1) Is this often a reason for you not to enjoy a book, like it frequently is for me?
2) What are some books you enjoyed with unlikeable characters? Maybe I need to try some different ones.
3) Are there certain genres/types of stories in which an unlikeable MC might work better than others? I'm thinking it would be especially tough to pull off in romance.

1) Yep. I'm like you.
2) Wish I could tell you but I don't read books with unlikable characters, even if they are 'interesting'.
3) Honestly, don't care. For reasons, see 2


But I guess what I'm really trying to figure out is:
Does "The character doesn't have to be likeable as long as he/she is interesting" represent how the majority of readers feel? Or: does such a character significanlty limit the audience of your book?

Meh. It will be hard to gauge if there is a 'majority of readers'. Some do, some don't, some will, some won't. It's all a matter of preference.

Just don't allow someone to make you feel like you're stupid because you might actually have a preference for likable characters that aren't irredeemable assholes or generally very bad people. You're not boring if you do.

RedWombat
10-30-2012, 07:26 PM
I quite liked Hannibal, actually. I love polite characters. Underused, in my opinion. Even if they're horrible people, I will follow them to the ends of the earth.

I can't say I liked the heroine of Mieville's The Scar, but I sympathized with her, and there was enough sheer spectacle to keep me happy.

However, I absolutely cannot read Phillip K. Dick because I detest every single one of his characters. They are all awful, awful people and I wish them to die quicker and out of my sight. They are not only unlikeable, they are utterly unsympathetic, as far as I'm concerned. If I knew them in real life, I would arrange my schedule to never, ever come in contact with them. (Love the movies, mind you. Dick could write a very good plot and the actors take all the horrible edges off the characters.)

And yet I know people who love Dick's characters, who describe them as very "human." More power to 'em, turn off the pink light when you're done.

A main character to me has to be sympathetic. Likeable is good, but sympathetic is a must. Otherwise I just don't care.

But what qualifies as sympathetic really depends on the reader. I can't handle whining. Whine and you're outta the to-be-read pile. A sense of humor, on t'other hand, will go a long way towards keeping me interested.

But I don't think there's any magic bullet that defines "likable."

Bloo
10-30-2012, 08:39 PM
from books:
Alex from A Clockwork Orange is someone I find likeable and yet at the same time unlikeable.

the aformentioned Tyrion Lannistar.

Tyler Durden


in TV:
Any of the guys from Sons of Anarachy,

Boyd Crowder (or Mags) from Justified. Boyd is a good example of someone we root for while at the same time rooting against him. If he gets away cool because we want to see him succeed and out wit Rylan. But if he loses we cheer because Rylan caught him.

Movies:
Ed Norton in American History X. It's the basketball scene that gets me, and maybe because we know he's reformed, but it's that scene where I'm rooting for him to win against the gangbangers that gets me

Buffysquirrel
10-30-2012, 09:44 PM
I think PKD would agree that most of his characters are horrible people. Or androids.

Mr Flibble
10-30-2012, 09:51 PM
You aren't alone, LJD. I'm the same way. If I'm going to be spending the entire book with a character, I, as a personal preference, have to like them, it doesn't matter how 'interesting' they are.



Thing is, what you and I think of as unlikeable may be wildly divergent. We'll have different dealbreakers, and different characters we find too unlikeable to care about.

So perhaps many readers don't like unlikeable characters, but then you have to delve into what is it they aren't liking?

bearilou
10-30-2012, 10:17 PM
Thing is, what you and I think of as unlikeable may be wildly divergent. We'll have different dealbreakers, and different characters we find too unlikeable to care about.

So perhaps many readers don't like unlikeable characters, but then you have to delve into what is it they aren't liking?

I agree that we may have differing ideas of what is unlikable. The thing with threads about this topic is how so often likable gets conflated with boring. Especially when the discussion turns to 'give me characters with faults. Characters with no faults are BORING! If a character has a fault, it makes them unlikable which I can overlook because they're not perfect and thus boring!'

Well, those of us who like likable characters have never said the characters didn't have faults, but apparently unless those faults are heinous and detestable and make the character a thoroughly unlikable character, then they are never interesting. Which is what I disagree with.

Mr Flibble
10-30-2012, 10:24 PM
Well, those of us who like likable characters have never said the characters didn't have faults, but apparently unless those faults are heinous and detestable and make the character a thoroughly unlikable character, then they are never interesting. Which is what I disagree with.

I'm with you there!

But yeah, every reader is going to come across a character that makes them put down the book - because they don;t like them. It may not be they're an awful, awful person, but just that they don't gel with this particular reader. The character bores them, or the reader actively dislikes them (or the two get conflated - I tend not to like characters who bore me, but that may not because they are too perfect) *shrugs* It happens. And I think that's where the 'as long as they are interesting' comes from - and again, what's interesting to you may be deathly boring to me.

So, in the end, the discussion always ends up down to personal preference. Subjectivity. Your boring may be my unputdownable and vice versa. Same with unlikeable and 'hoo yeah baby!' And without even any context (what does the OP think is unlikeable in their character?) it becomes even more tenuous.

So my answer to the OP is 'All readers will have things that make them dislike a character enough to put a book down. Not all readers will agree what that dislikeable thing is, or or maybe even whether that particular character is unlikeable'

bearilou
10-30-2012, 10:29 PM
I'm with you there!'

NO U!

..ohwait...you're agreeing.


So my answer to the OP is 'All readers will have things that make them dislike a character enough to put a book down. Not all readers will agree what that dislikeable thing is, or or maybe even whether that particular character is unlikeable

Right!

Midian
10-31-2012, 08:57 PM
Mark Lawrence's Jorg Ancrath (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns) is completely unlikable but the book is awesomeness wrapped in wow. The reviews are incredibly divisive; you either love it or you don't and it's specifically because there are no redeeming qualities. But the books are very popular so clearly enough people like unlikable characters. I honestly believe that it's the writing that will compel people to like a book with unlikable characters.

gothicangel
10-31-2012, 09:07 PM
I've just finished reading Rose Tremain's sequel to Restoration.

Now I loved that book, and loved Robert Merivel even though he was unlikeable, because of his redemption at the end. But in the second book, the redemption is revealed as false, he's hypocritical and extremely vain. I still love 'Restoration,' but the sequel has tainted it somewhat.

dolores haze
10-31-2012, 09:16 PM
I think the film, A Lion in Winter, is a good example. Every single character is awful in their own way and yet I watch it repeatedly.

DamaNegra
11-01-2012, 05:58 AM
I think it really depends on what's unlikeable about the main character. I once read a novel in which the main character was so freaking annoying I could never finish it, even though it was supposed to be an amazing novel. Yet I've read others in which I really didn't like the main character, but didn't feel like setting his face on fire either.

Fuchsia Groan
11-01-2012, 06:19 AM
For me it has a lot to do with how the writer presents the character. If the author tries very hard to make me love a character who strikes me as narcissistic and whiny, and if that character starts to seem like an author surrogate, I put down the book. But if I can tell from various clues that the author doesn't consider this character the be-all and end-all of awesomeness, I continue. Sometimes unlikable characters are redeemed; sometimes they just give us a vicarious opportunity to revel in antisocial behavior. (Richard III is one of my favorite Shakespeare characters.)

So if I had the sense that the creators of Breaking Bad thought Walt was awesome no matter what he did (as some of the fans seem to), it wouldn't be my favorite show. It's not that I really care about the writers' intention, except as it manifests on the page or screen, but it always does.

I liked The Corrections, and I agree that the characters weren't likable, or even particularly memorable (with the possible exception of the dad). They seemed like fairly generic creations Franzen used to exemplify types of people in America. When I remember what I liked about the book, it's really the narrative voice, the writing, the insights he used those characters to convey. It's a less character-driven book, which definitely isn't everyone's cup of tea.

The protagonists I usually find unlikable are (a) middle-aged guys in midlife crisis books who complain a lot and seem to be expressing the author's curmudgeonly opinions and (b) women's fiction protagonists who angst a lot but never do much of anything besides wait for an amazing guy to fall in love with them, which of course he does. I always wonder why the author didn't just write a book about the sassy/slutty best friend, who seems much more fun.

Mr Flibble
11-01-2012, 06:22 AM
I think there's a difference between ' I don't like his character but by holy hell I want to see what he does next'

and

'I don't like this character he is evil and nasty and yuk'

and

'This character annoys the crap out of me because they are stupid/whiny/like that kid who used to bully me/whatever'

Only the last one makes me out a book down (perhaps number two, if he's annoying and whiny)