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Author Topic: Hate the main character, hate the book?  (Read 2148 times)  

Offline SalomeGolding

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Hate the main character, hate the book?
« on: June 11, 2018, 12:07:24 PM »
I recently got a review where the reader said she "didn't like the heroine at all!" because she (the heroine) was an immature user. (I'm paraphrasing).

She made no comment about whether or not she thought the novel was engaging and well written. She gave it a star rating lower than the couple of others received so far.

On balance, having reflected, I find it kind of amusing and am glad that the characters evoked such strong feelings in her. But now I am considering whether it would be better to create more likable heroines in the future.

To the more experienced writers - does this often happen? Do readers tend to judge your novels on whether or not they like the hero / heroine? If so, do you think that's unfair? Or do you just accept it and write more likable heroes/heroines?

As a reader, do you enjoy a novel less and/or give it lower ratings when you don't like the main character?

Is it possible to *love* a book although you think that the main character sucks as a person?
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 07:08:34 PM by SalomeGolding »

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Offline MyraScott

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2018, 12:10:32 PM »
I can't devote my time to reading a book with a main character I don't like.  They don't have to be any certain way, but if they are completely unlikable I won't keep going.

Offline SevenDays

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2018, 12:14:42 PM »
Reading your post, at first I thought yup, if I hate the character I won't view the book favorably. Then I remembered Mac in Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. I haaaaaaaated Mac. She's basically an oxygen thief, at least in the first book. But did I hate the book? Nope. Adored it. Still one of my all-time favorite series ... up until the wretched, foul, worst-character-in-a-book-ever-omg Dani in Iced. I hated Dani so much I stopped reading after that.

So ... sometimes?

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Offline Mikaela, Editor

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2018, 12:22:31 PM »
It's okay to have characters readers don't like. Just like in real life, some people suck. The important thing for a main character, however, is that your readers can somehow connect with and relate to them, whether that means they know the character's backstory and understand their reasoning or recognize the character's emotions and/or flaws within themselves. They don't have to agree with the character's choices, but they should be able to empathize with them.
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Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2018, 12:24:06 PM »
I can't devote my time to reading a book with a main character I don't like.  They don't have to be any certain way, but if they are completely unlikable I won't keep going.

I have a feeling most people are going to say this.

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2018, 12:25:14 PM »
I wouldn't say I particularly care for Ignatius J. Reilly, but I love 'A Confederacy of Dunces'. 8)

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Offline Simon Haynes

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2018, 12:26:19 PM »
I had a few reviews complaining my main character was a jerk, so I renamed the book after the other major character. Since he's much more likeable ... problem solved!

But to be serious, if I'm going to spend that much time inside the head of a character, they need to have some kind of redeeming qualities. If not likeable, then at least not irritating, whiney, easy push-overs, that kind of thing.


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Offline ellenoc

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2018, 12:28:48 PM »
I'm another one - if the MC is IMO a jerk I don't want to spend time in their company. At a guess more readers are like me in Romance than any other genre.

Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2018, 12:31:37 PM »
Reading your post, at first I thought yup, if I hate the character I won't view the book favorably. Then I remembered Mac in Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. I haaaaaaaated Mac. She's basically an oxygen thief, at least in the first book. But did I hate the book? Nope. Adored it. Still one of my all-time favorite series ... up until the wretched, foul, worst-character-in-a-book-ever-omg Dani in Iced. I hated Dani so much I stopped reading after that.

So ... sometimes?

Hmm. Interesting. So what determines the "sometimes"? Is it whether, like Mikaela says, you can relate to the character and understand their motivations?

I've got to look that series up.

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2018, 12:32:12 PM »
There are plenty of characters that I've hated but still appreciated. I didn't hate those books.

There are also plenty of characters that I've hated that have caused me to hate the books they're part of.

Just the way it goes.

I can honestly say that I don't separate character dislike from quality of prose when it comes to my feelings about a book. A book is a package of many things, and they all play a part in my like or dislike. I've never in my life liked a book just because it was "well-written" or even "engaging." What matters to me is how I feel when I get to the end. Was the trip worth it? Unlikable characters can really skew the answer to that question if things haven't changed by the end.

I do think a lot of readers feel this way. I've gotten some of those kinds of reviews myself. Unlikable characters require extra-special storytelling skills and it's easy to miss the mark.



Offline MichaelRyan

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2018, 12:33:35 PM »
Gone Girl is one of my favorite all time novels.
I've read it 5 times and seen the movie twice.

I enjoyed Dark Places, although the movie tanked and I never watched it.

I haven't read Sharp Objects, but I'm assuming it's a good book considering HBO picked it up.

Flynn has written about why she decided to write with dark/unlikable heroines and it's worth considering that a well written character with understandable hurdles and goals can be very popular in spite of the fact they are evil.

With Gone Girl, in fact, she does it even farther, the ending of the book is horrible.  I loved to hate it and on each of the 2nd to 5th readings I kept hoping magically that Nick would run for the hills somehow....

All that said, it's certainly a lot harder to pull off a book with an MC that's loathsome.

One of my other favorite novels is Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and while the MC isn't hateful, she's pathetic and weak.  However, the story is written so well you just can't help (well at least I couldn't) continue to see what's going to happen to her.  This was also made into a movie, although I don't know if it was faithful to the story or not for the big screen.

It is possible to have a main side character like Hannibal become a fan favorite in spite of the fact he's a throughly evil and vicious killer.

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Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #11 on: June 11, 2018, 12:36:31 PM »
But to be serious, if I'm going to spend that much time inside the head of a character, they need to have some kind of redeeming qualities. If not likeable, then at least not irritating, whiney, easy push-overs, that kind of thing.
See, I wrote that heroine the way I did because the heroine in my first novel was kind of a goodie-two-shoes, and it was a fun change to write someone who was a bit more flawed and rash and not at all like me. I don't think she's irredeemable (in fact the novel is kind of about her redemption through love), and I thought she would be interesting and more complex to read about, which would be the trade-off for the character flaws.

« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 12:41:02 PM by SalomeGolding »

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Offline ShayneRutherford

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Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #12 on: June 11, 2018, 12:44:13 PM »
If the unlikeable character is a secondary character Ill probably be able to tolerate them. But when Im reading for pleasure, the last thing I want to do is spend my time with a character who aggravates me. That said, on my list of unlikeable traits, stupidity, immaturity, and cowardice would be my biggest turnoffs, while a character of questionable morality who can be redeemed would be interesting, and someone I could pull for. All that to say, likability is subjective.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 01:14:06 PM by ShayneRutherford »
     

Online levz

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #13 on: June 11, 2018, 01:02:18 PM »
It's okay to have characters readers don't like.
...
 The important thing for a main character, however, is that your readers can somehow connect with and relate to them
....
They don't have to agree with the character's choices, but they should be able to empathize with them.

This makes a lot of sense.


There are plenty of characters that I've hated but still appreciated. I didn't hate those books.

There are also plenty of characters that I've hated that have caused me to hate the books they're part of.

Just the way it goes.

...

What matters to me is how I feel when I get to the end. Was the trip worth it? Unlikable characters can really skew the answer to that question if things haven't changed by the end.
...

Unlikable characters require extra-special storytelling skills and it's easy to miss the mark.

Sums up my feelings perfectly.  I agree that it can be done, but, yes, it requires "extra-special storytelling skills" and for you to be intentionally crafting your character in that way.  I do think sometimes the unlikeable part - if thats how the character is perceived - is unintentional.  Like, for example, the " irritating, whiney, easy push-overs" that Simon mentioned - probably not what most people are aiming for  (unless perhaps they're also crafting some kind of arc that overcomes/confronts that) and the sort of thing that can put off readers in terms of MCs, if reviews are to go by anyway. 

Offline LSMay

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #14 on: June 11, 2018, 01:13:50 PM »
You can have a horrible character, but you need to give the reader something to like about them. One of my MCs does some objectively bad things but she's fighting for a good cause.

Or there's the likes of Dr House - I wouldn't want to be his friend, but I find him interesting. In that case humour and a drive to save someone's life make up for basically being a jerk.

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Offline David VanDyke

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #15 on: June 11, 2018, 01:15:15 PM »
Your protagonists doesn't need to be likable. They just can't be UNlikable.

Think Jessica Jones. Not likable--but interesting and not someone you end up hating. In fact, you end up liking her more and more as you understand her.

But if you start off with an UNlikable protagonist too soon, you will lose many readers.


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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #16 on: June 11, 2018, 01:19:32 PM »
I'd say a large majority of the time if I don't like, or at least can't empathize, with the protagonist, I won't like the book. I won't say it's 100%, because I'm sure there will be an exception someday, but it's definitely almost always. And I resent the insinuation that I'm "immature" for reading this way.
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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #17 on: June 11, 2018, 01:20:27 PM »
I think sometimes people use the work "unlikable" when they mean "uninteresting."

There are plenty of characters that I HATED but loved to read about...waiting for them to get what was coming to them. And then there are characters that are likable enough but just don't interest me.

And particularly if it is the main character, that person MUST be interesting or, for me, the entire book falls apart. If I can't bring myself to be interested in the person, I have no interest in what happens to that person. And if I don't care what happens to the person, I'll lose interest in the book because...why keep reading if I'm not interested in what is happening?

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Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #18 on: June 11, 2018, 02:10:19 PM »
I'd say a large majority of the time if I don't like, or at least can't empathize, with the protagonist, I won't like the book. I won't say it's 100%, because I'm sure there will be an exception someday, but it's definitely almost always. And I resent the insinuation that I'm "immature" for reading this way.
Huh?

No, the reviewer said the character was immature.

I'm not saying that the reviewer was immature for not liking the book because she didn't like the character.

ETA: I edited the OP to make this clear.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 07:16:03 PM by SalomeGolding »

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Offline cdk

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #19 on: June 11, 2018, 02:31:36 PM »
I think it's possible to like a book without liking the main character.

I wrote a crime fiction book where the main characters are grifters and it received a 3 star review.  The reviewer said she hated the characters (all main characters are grifters) because she couldn't root for anyone.  The reviewer explained that she arrived at 3 stars by starting with 1 star because she hated the characters, but because she found the story so compelling that she couldnt stop reading, she rated the story and writing 5 stars and then she averaged that to 3 stars for the review.

My goal was to create a grifter as a good character, but it's not easy when you also have to show the character in their element of grifting throughout the story.

Other readers understood and responded the characters had to be that way because, after all they were grifters, but in the end, I think it helped that some grifters were worse than others, so even though the main character is bad, she was good for a grifter.

I think it ultimately depends on why a reader doesn't like a character.  I can't stand rude people, so I'm unlikely to continue reading a book where the main character is rude if a comeuppance isn't on the horizon.  Other readers like and prefer rude, smart-alecky or snarky characters.  I think there are some negative personality traits that some readers will tolerate, but those same personality traits are fatal to others.  Immaturity is tolerated in youth, less so in adults.

Just a thought.

Offline ameliag

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #20 on: June 11, 2018, 02:48:00 PM »
The MC is the star of any book. So if the MC is unlikable, the rest of the book may suffer (even when the other characters are better). If one is going to dedicate 200+ pages, the MC better be as likable and entertaining as possible. This is especially true if you're writing first POV. Tough the MC doesn't have to be a flawless being, just likable enough for readers to identify with (and root for.)

I'm going through this exact same problem with my own MC.

Offline Jena H

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #21 on: June 11, 2018, 02:51:05 PM »
This isn't quite the same, but in my MG series, one reviewer took a star away because "Kristen drove me insane with her rude remarks."  The character Kristen is about 13, and I wrote her to be flip and snarky, but apparently the reader felt she was simply rude.  (On the plus side, Kristen is also bold and resourceful.)

Can't please everyone.
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Offline geronl

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #22 on: June 11, 2018, 03:00:09 PM »
I can't devote my time to reading a book with a main character I don't like.  They don't have to be any certain way, but if they are completely unlikable I won't keep going.

What if the main character is the bad guy? But likable?

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Offline SevenDays

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #23 on: June 11, 2018, 03:02:25 PM »
Hmm. Interesting. So what determines the "sometimes"? Is it whether, like Mikaela says, you can relate to the character and understand their motivations?

I've got to look that series up.

I can't put my finger on it. Sometimes the character is such a zero that I can't relate. Or they're TSTL (too stupid to live). Sometimes they're so awful that I can't get past my dislike and read further, no matter how highly the book comes recommended. For example, Lord Foul's Bane, the first Thomas Covenant book. Within the first few pages I was so repulsed by the main character that it was an instant NO for me.


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Offline SevenDays

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #24 on: June 11, 2018, 03:03:55 PM »
Your protagonists doesn't need to be likable. They just can't be UNlikable.

Think Jessica Jones. Not likable--but interesting and not someone you end up hating. In fact, you end up liking her more and more as you understand her.


She's a great example. She's so prickly but it becomes obvious pretty quickly why she is the way she is.

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