Monday, March 19, 2012

Main Character Dilemma


There’s a book I love.  The first time I read it there were parts where I was so angry with the MC I could only read for 15 minutes before I would slam the book down in a huff.  But, half an hour later there I was, picking it up again anxious to see what would happen next.  I love that book, now.  I think one of the reasons I enjoy it so much is because it creates such a strong emotional response in my.  It isn’t always a happy, fluffy feeling but it’s real and it’s strong, and it pulls me in.  I lived in that world, I didn’t like her choices but I lived them. 

I think that’s the best kind of MC, one that creates a range of strong emotions in us as they struggle and grow.  But I have to ask myself, why do I like the book when I disliked so much of the character?  How far can an author go before they have an unsympathetic character that no one will read?

There’s a variety of reasons it worked in this book.  First, motivation.  For all the choices she made we understood exactly why she made them.   We knew what she was thinking, why she thought it would work and it was all true to her character.  If the author was visible in the book, leading the character from bad choice to bad choice, for the sake of plot alone, with no motivation I can guarantee I would not have finished the book.

Second, sympathy.  Though I was angry at her, I knew her past, I knew her frailties and weaknesses and how she was trying to hide those weaknesses.  So in some ways I felt sorry for her. She was a sympathetic character. I also knew that if I was in her situation I would most likely make some bad choices too. Though maybe not the ones she made. 

Third, growth.  Through the book we could see her grow and change.  She realized she made mistakes, she tried to fix them the best she could and she truly learned to care about others.  In the end she was someone I could emulate and admire.  Who doesn’t want to see someone triumph over difficulties?

For all the roller coaster ride this MC puts me on she’s one of my favorite characters.  She evokes such a strong response in me that I can’t help but get emotionally involved, and after all, isn’t that what a book is supposed to do?  One things for sure, the MC can make or break the book.

What do you think of MCs that drive you nuts?  Would you keep reading?  Who is the MC that creates the strongest emotional response in you? 

44 comments:

  1. Good strong MCs that hold true to their central character are the reason I read at all! I don't like books that are plot-driven with 2D characters. If there's no trama to the MC, there's no point to the action, IMHO. ; )

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  2. If a character really infuriates me I will stop reading. We have to put up with people like that in real life all the time. In fiction, we can just close the book and pick up another.

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    1. So true! There are a lot of people in life I wouldn't want to read about.

      There are some books where the character is so unsympathetic I'll stop. It's a fine line.

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  3. I think I'm reading that book. LOL. I really am in the middle of a book where I don't like the MC but I can see why she's making all the choices she is and sympathize with her. I hope by the end she might be able to be saved. That's what I like about it though is that she isn't running from some unforeseen evil. She's running from herself. Which is what most people do.

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    1. I wonder if running from yourself makes us more likely to put up with a character? It's something we can all understand after all.

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  4. Having an emotional reaction to characters really helps the story feel more real. I love that connection when I'm reading a great story!

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    1. Exactly. The best stories are the ones we get emotionally involved in. They're the ones we remember.

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  5. It's hard for me to keep reading if I don't care for the MC. I usually end up putting the book aside. When I first started reading The Hunger Games, I didn't like Katniss' attitude toward her mother. It wasn't until way toward the end that I accepted it--of course, her attitude had changed by then. But, her attitude towards her sister and the love she still held for her father connected with me emotionally and compelled me to read the book.

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    1. I agree about Katniss' attitude towards her mother. I wonder if the author intentionally juxtaposed that against her love of her sister. It shows not only that she's capable of love but gives us a multiple faceted character.

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  6. It's a tricky balance... because you have to have character growth--so there has to be points where your MC isn't a good person, isn't doing what's right. So you have to be careful to keep your character likable, like you said. Oh the joys of crafting a perfect novel... ;)

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    1. Like walking the edge of a knife....

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  7. I feel like you could have been describing one of my characters. ;) I have a character that sounds quite like this--I was terrified to write her when I started out. I want to throttle her sometimes, but I understand what she's doing and why she's doing it, even if I don't always agree with it. Mostly, I vent on my private journal--"Dear ___ WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING!?!" There is much capslocking and *head desking*. At the same time, she's the only character I've written who has made me cry because of the pain she's suffered, and I love her and want to tell her story. So I guess it's the same kind of thing. ;) It remains to be seen what readers will think of her. But I guess the short answer is: I can't recall reading a character quite like this, but writing one can be exhausting. :p

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    1. Ooh, now I can't wait to see that character. You have me very intrigued. Wait, is it one of the ones in Rising? I have it on my kindle but haven't read it yet. I'm bumping to the top of the list.

      I've been thinking about this a lot because I have that problem with one of my characters too.

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    2. Oh, thank you! I hope you enjoy Rising! And yes, this character is from Rising. :D She was a secondary character in the first book, but she's a narrator in the second (final) book. She's pushed me out of soooo many comfort zones. She was the one I worried about the most, going, "How can I write this? What will people think of me for writing it?" And then I had to realize that it doesn't matter--what matters is telling her story as it needs to be told, not shying away any of it. And believe me, I'm writing things now that I had once been sure I would never, ever write.

      I think what you said about motivation, sympathy, and growth is spot on. I think a lot of things can be understood by so many people--even if they're not in that situation or they might make a different choice, on some level, if you have a character people can understand and sympathize with anyway, that is an awesome thing.

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    3. Sounds like that character helped you grow as a writer. I think we should always be finding stories and characters that challenge us. Otherwise our books would be boring and flat.

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  8. That book sounds so interesting, and yes, I would keep reading even if I didn't like the MC. One book that comes to mind was Anna Karenina, who left her beloved child behind to be with her lover.

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    1. Oooo, Anna Karenina is a great example. I think many people don't like her choices yet we can all understand her dilemmas and fears.

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  9. Now I'm curious to know which book/MC you were referring to....As for me, I don't always stop reading a book if the main character wasn't likeable- in fact, sometimes flawed characters can be rather interesting.

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    1. That's why I kept going back. Flawed, multidimensional characters are much more interesting.

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  10. We might not always agree with a character's choices but it would be boring to read about someone just like us. Like you say though, we are more likely to sympathise with someone if we know or can surmise something of their background that has shaped who they are, and that keeps the emotional connection, even if we may dislike a lot of what they do.

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    1. Good point. It would be boring to read only about people who are like us. I know what I would do in a given situation. It's interesting to know what others would do and get new perspective.

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  11. Flawed characters are SO much more interesting than perfect ones. Though I have to admit I've put down books and never picked them up again because a character has annoyed me so much. I think 'strong response' only goes so far with me - it depends on the response the character evokes!

    I'm DYING to know which book/MC you're talking about :-)

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    1. Flawed characters are more interesting but sometimes a character can just be too annoying.

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  12. A character who is squeaky clean is so not interesting. They have to have quirks or flaws or things that make them memorable. I rather enjoyed Will Herondale from the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. He drove me crazy with all his cocky pretense and being cruel to his friends. But it kept me reading. He kept me reading. Clare did a great job developing his character. Well, her characters as a whole.

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    1. Characters can really save a book that we might not be interested in. I'm a character driven reader, sounds as if you are too.

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  13. Oh man! I've read books like that too. But you're right. When we are pulled in emotionally it makes an impact on us. Even if it isn't all sunshine and roses. Very fun post. Characters and emotion is so important!

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    1. They are, yet they can be very hard to write. I think you really have to know your character.

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  14. You can do this to me, but you better give me a satisfying ending, or I won't go back! Dan Wells' "I Am Not a Serial Killer" series was like that for me. He did so well making what should have been an unlikable character (15-year-old sociopath with horrid dreams and fantasies) into someone very sympathetic. The last book made me cry.

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    1. I've never read that. It's true, endings need to be right and satisfying. You can put up with a lot while reading the book if it's worth it in the end. Kind of like trials in life.

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  15. Now I'm really curious what book you're talking about. : /

    You can email me through my profile if you don't want to say here. ; )

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    1. For anyone who desperately wants to know the book is Pavilion of Women by Pearl S Buck. I know a lot of people aren't Buck fans but I love that book.

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    2. Thanks, will check it out. The author sounds familiar. I want to say she wrote THE GOOD EARTH, but can't be sure. I actually enjoyed it a lot, even though it was sort of sad.

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    3. Yes, she's the author of The Good Earth, (and the two sequels of that and about 25 other books)

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  16. I always think of Scarlett O'Hara, who was so selfish and self-absorbed, yet also courageous and passionate. For me, there must be SOMETHING relatable. If it feels like the author is just having the character make poor choices again and again so they can write the story they want to write, they will lose me. The two must work together. Otherwise, I'll through the book across the room and not pick it up again. :D

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    1. Excellent example of another character who can be hard to like, but who we all admire and understand.

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  17. When I was reading this I kept thinking about Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games." She has to make some really difficult (and sometimes) brutal choices to do what's best for her family, but you still root for her because you like her.

    Great post! By the way, I've tagged you in the Lucky 7 Meme :)

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    1. Thanks!

      Yep, Katniss is one too. I admire her and think she's amazing but I don't know that I would be her friend. Or that she would be mine. I'm way too lazy. :)

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  18. This is something I'm struggling with right now. I don't know if it's because I'm hitting a slump with the edits after already re-writing my WIP once, but I'm starting to get so tired of my MC. If I don't even like her, who will?

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    1. I think we all get to a point where we can't stand our WIP, where if we have to read one. more. word. we might just do something drastic.

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  19. I usually keep reading if the MC bothers me, so long as there's some relatable element. And even if there isn't, it can be worth it to find out how someone else would view the situation.

    One character who brought out a strong reaction in me was the MC in The Cup of the World by John Dickinson, and the female protagonists in the following two books of the trilogy.

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    1. Oo, haven't read that. I'll have to go check it out.

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  20. I adore a MC who grows and changes. That SHOULD be what MC characterization is all about. If the plot doesn't push a character's growth, how effective is it really?

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    1. Yes, a character should grow, but sometimes they are so annoying/unlikable at first we don't care enough to stick around.

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