Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Love-Hate Relationship Brought to You by the Blog Chain

Blog chain time again! BTW, some of you have asked how to participate in the blog chain. This chain started when a group of friends from the QueryTracker forum decided to link together and discuss a set topic. We maintain a schedule, a rotation of who picks the topic and a general discussion board where we share real life things using RallyStorm. It really is quite fun, and if you're interested in more deets on how to start your own blog chain, shoot me an email. Or leave a comment here. Or PM me through Rally. Some of you are already there.

So back to the regularly scheduled programming. This chain is about one of my favorite topics - characters. Creating characters, reading about them, is what makes writing enjoyable. It's why I love to read. I love to see what other people will do in the face of impossible odds.

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?

Michelle started this chain, so go back to her blog to hear the specifics of her answer.

I’m going to start by springboarding off something she said. She was talking about Scarlett O’Hara and how she’s unlikable and yet we read. Well, I don’t. I haven’t read that. It was probably printed before I was born. I don’t normally read or watch movies that were made before I was born. Shallow, I know. I think I already had this “classics” confession.

Anyhow, that got me thinking of books I’ve read where I absolutely hated the main character. I know you know what I’m thinking of.


Okay, I'll just get it out there. I hate Bella. Really, really hate her. I was talking with my crit group last week and we discussed this for a few minutes. We all hated Bella, and most girls say they don’t like Bella either. So why do they read a book narrated by Bella?

Ahhh, Edward. And one girl (I think it was Stacy) said that the teen girls (and other women) read Twilight because they think they deserve Edward more than Bella, because Bella is just so stupid and unlikable. So if Edward likes her…he can like them—more.

People read Twilight because the real “hero” of the book is Edward, even though he’s not the one telling the story. He’s the likable one. The intriguing one. The one that keeps us turning pages. (At least until Book 4 when he turns into a complete and utter moron, but that is a post for another day in the far distant future.)

So I think that’s what it comes down to this: Who is the real hero of your book? Is it really the narrating character? Or is it someone else? No matter who it is, that’s the person that’s going to propel a reader through a book, which means you must have someone like that in your book. Even if it's not the narrating character.

So let’s see if I’ve answered the question (doubtful, I like tangents). Ha! I actually did--at least the likable and intriguing part.

So moving on to characters I love the most…hmm. I like the underdog who has spunk and guts and real emotions. Percy Jackson. Katniss in The Hunger Games. I also loved Rue in that book. Yes, Harry Potter and all the injustices he has to endure. Travis in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. He was the romantic one, the quiet guy who Mary loved. I like characters with flaws, but who work to overcome them.

Onto characers I hate. I don't think I do. Even Darth Vader--the villian, the epitome of evil--is a likable character. People like him so much they made three movies just to tell his story. So even villains can be intriguing and drive the reader to turn pages. (Or maybe I just like light sabers.) But really, he's a character we love to hate, because his past is so tragic. So we love him, yet we hate him at the same time.

If you can manage to write a character we love and root for (the hero) combined with another character we love to hate (the villain), and ultimately we want him to be defeated but it's still sad when he is, then you've found the winning combination of characters that will make your book a page-turner. Think Star Wars with Luke and Darth. Harry Potter with Harry and Voldemort.

That is all. Annie is up in the chain tomorrow, and I know she'll have something uber-awesome to say on this topic.

What do you think? Which characters do you like? Do they have to be likable? Intriguing? Does that person have to be the one telling the story? Which charcters do you have a love-hate relationship with? Why? What makes them so loveable and yet hateable at the same time? What kind of characters do you like to write?


Scott said...

Elana - help, the top of your post is in black ink (well, not ink, but . . .) and can't be read on the dark background. : ) Also, my eyes aren't what they used to be . . .


Scott said...

I prefer intrigue over likability. But (yes, unfortunately, there's always one of those), if the character is totally unlikable, I'm less likely to finish the book.

Example - if the MC has no redeeming values and is a truly horrible person (and that author failed to give the reasons behind the character's totally horrible person persona), why would I keep reading? I wouldn't.

Darth Vader - his history slowly unfolds in the Star Wars trilogy. The viewer comes to understand that his is a tortured soul. He is not totally unredeemable. He is capable of love . . . even if it is twisted in some way.

Snape (Harry Potter) - for the most part, he is unlikable . . . until his backstory is revealed. Now, did I ever truly love this character? No, but I did understand him by the end.

Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter) - she was unredeemable. J.K. Rowlings created a character that I absolutely (and still do) despised. I laughed out loud when Ron did the "clop-clop" sound and made Dolores freak out thinking the centaurs were coming back for her. Did I care what happened to her? Well, yes, if it was going to be something bad. Sorry, but that's the beauty of the character J. K. Rowling created. There was no redemption for her.

Lastly, I like to write real characters that I (and my potential readers) can relate to on some deep level. I want to understand why the characters do what they do. If I can write characters like 'that', and my readers can relate in the same way to those characters, then I've done my job. Here's hoping . . .


jessjordan said...

Oh. My. Effing. G. Total deja vu feeling I'm getting right now, because I just typed up a response to someone's blog, where I went through the whole "I hated Bella but kept reading" bit as well.

And I did. I truly hated her. Still do (even after watching Kristen Stewart, who I kind of heart, try-and mostly fail-to give the character some depth). As I said last night in another blog comment: she's one-dimensional. She's boring. She's whiny. She's weak. She has no personality, no friends, no quirks, no history, nothing that makes her real. She is hollow.

What kept me reading, I think, was the world around Bella. Edward and clan. Jacob and clan. Her dad, even. But never Bella.

Your post has definitely got me thinking. As of now, my piece is definitely MC driven, but I feel my secondary characters are just as important (especially since I have an idea spinning in my head for a separate piece involving them ...).

Geez ... I'm not used to thinking when I first wake up! :)

Anonymous said...

Okay - so were you actually IN my head when you wrote your take on Twilight...cause it seems like it :D.

I won't comment on my takeon this. I'm going to have a hard enough time writing on at the end of the chain.

Great post!

Michelle McLean said...

Ooo, Scott, Dolores Umbridge, excellent call!! I was trying so hard to think of a character I truly hated and just couldn't think of one. But yes, she is definitely on that list.

And *ducks in advance to avoid the fallout from this comment* I didn't hate Bella. I kinda liked her - well, that might be too strong a sentiment. But I definitely didn't hate her. I DID, however, love the books because of Edward...even book 4 :D

Excellent post as always Elana!!

Danyelle said...

Great thought--especially about the hero possibly not being the narrator. *still giggling over the Twilight thing*

I'm pretty sure my hero is Alora (GF), but the most important character is the firebird which only shows up in a chapter or three. Or four.

The main thing for me is being able to connect with the character. Intrigue usually ends up as likability for me. If I can connect with the character on a deeper level, I end up loving the character and the book.

adrcremer said...

Great post, Elana. I love villains who you can't help but admire. In my own book I'm striving for that balance between wanting to despise the antagonist but always wondering about their true nature, what they really desire, almost obsessively. I think it's that constant tension between characters that makes a novel remarkable.

ElanaJ said...

Scott, excellent points about the redeemability factor of characters. I fixed my post - darn PC's!!

JessJordan - I'm so with you. Sorry to make you think in the morning. ;-)

Christine - you'll do fine on your post. You're just that insightful.

Michelle - I don't care if you like Bella. No duckage or hiding! lol

Danyelle - connections are important. That's why we read.

Great insights and comments guys! Thanks!

~Jamie said...

Right now this is really hard for me... because I am writing the story of the villain... and the problem with that is that character exists to bring conflict and interest to the main character, so how do I make that character likable and someone you're willing to read an entire book for? I completely hear you though...

and to scott: oh man I hear you! I read in a google reader,and elana does her posts in yellow ink I always have to highlight it just so I can read it!

Litgirl01 said...

I absolutely love this post because I am working on characters in my book as we speak. It's not easy. My characters appeal to me...I wrote them, but it's not easy to make them appeal to everyone. :-)

I like intriguing, quirky, human, multi-faceted characters.

B.J. Anderson said...

Yay for Percy Jackson! And Harry Potter. Likable characters whose sequels I ran out to buy. Artemis Fowl on the other hand was not a character I could really get into, so I didn't pick up the sequel to his. Great book, I just didn't feel for the main guy.

I think you can have intriguing and likable characters at the same time. Sometimes there's a fine line though and you can tip the scale either way to being too perfect or not likable enough. Love this topic!!

Annie Louden said...

Ooh, I love your chain pic. I may steal it.

Now I really don't want to read Twilight. I already thought the writing was bad, but if the MC isn't even likable, no thanks.

And I haven't read Gone With the Wind either.

You've given me a lot to think about! I hope I can express it in my post.

Sandra said...

I haven't read the Twilight series and, from what I've read about them, don't want to. But I've also read that Bella is hollow to make it easier for the reader to put herself in Bella's place. I'd have to agree that Edward seems to be the compelling character who keeps people reading.

Robyn said...

I love my characters,oh yeah, I wrote them. Hmm, I want everyone who reads my book to love them, too. My book is mostly one voice. But in about 5-6 chapters it is in the voice of the main characters brother. Everyone says they love him almost as much if not AS much as the main character. :)

Nisa said...

I love the villains. I guess I find them more intriguing, which means I must read for the intrigue. Though I suppose likable and intriguing are a bit subjective, I have to agree about Bella. The first half of the second book was mind-numbing. Listening to her whine and moan for more than a chapter was just plain painful. Still I didn't hate her either.

I can't believe I missed #2 of the first lines as yours! And #3 was of course Twilight. Sure, it seems so obvious now! :P I need a better memory! Wait... that sounds wrong.

Rebecca Knight said...

Great post and comments! :)

Elana, may I partake in this awesome blog-chain? I'd love to play, too!

Carolyn Kaufman said...

I love villains, so like you, I don't hate much of any character. (Ok, I hate Bella. ESPECIALLY in the movie. Somewhere about a third of the way into the second book I seriously considered throwing it out the window. If I hadn't foolishly BOUGHT the remaining 3 books, I'd never have finished the series.)

My word is epsephes. Sounds like a goddess of something. Epsephes, the goddess of the fizz in your soda.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I find bland characters (like Bella) much more unlikeable than a character who might be "bad" in some way. There are some characters whose actions even though I might understand them, I just cannot forgive.

For example in "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" the father gives away his daughter with down-syndrome and never tells his wife although she is devestated over it for years. I was so angry about that it just ruined the book for me.

Kat Harris said...

Before today, I never really thought about the complexity of Darth Vader. . .and I've been a Star Wars fan since 1977.


Great post today. I'm still trying to decide between likability and intrigue.

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