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Author Topic: Hate the main character, hate the book?  (Read 2081 times)  

Offline FridayRaccoon

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #25 on: June 11, 2018, 03:39:28 PM »
I think it is okay as long as their personality improves by the end of the book, Or if a reason is given.
One of my favorite books has a very unlikeable main character, but as the book continues, she sees how people react to her words and actions and changes for the better. Although I admit I probably wouldnt have finished the book if I didnt have a must finish every book I start rule at the time.

A good example might be The secret garden?

Offline Pandorra

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #26 on: June 11, 2018, 03:45:27 PM »
I have a problem reading books for MC's I don't like, even if the romantic interest or sidekick is someone I don't like, I tend to skip over quite a bit of the book or just don't finish it. And yes, I will review a book based on that feeling since it makes me uncomfortable and tends to cancel out any good portions of the book because I am annoyed with the MC most of the time.
I am not sure there is a 'it depends' for me, I know there was one series where the MC's never grew up over the course of 8 books (immature, childish behavior throughout though they were supposed to have gained experience and such as the series went on), I read the series because it was just brilliant (and free on KU) but the chars were so bad that the book lost a lot of credibility in my eyes... so where it would have went on my fav list and been reread, now it's been dumped in the garbage pile and I haven't recommended it to anyone... In another, one of the MC's got increasingly whiny over the course of the books and I stopped reading the series just because she was in so many of the scenes and I couldn't avoid her... breaks my heart to see a great story ruined by one or more bad MC's but it does happen.
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Offline CathleenT

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #27 on: June 11, 2018, 03:58:31 PM »
If a book doesn't have a main character with at least some redeeming characteristics and hope for betterment, I don't want to read it.

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #28 on: June 11, 2018, 04:15:29 PM »
Don't go changing things over a single review. If a significant percentage of your readers say or hint at something along the same lines, then it's time to reevaluate, but each reader brings her own background and opinions to her reading and sees things differently. So any one reader can be an outlier.

Offline MClayton

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #29 on: June 11, 2018, 05:32:48 PM »
I can enjoy a novel even if I don't care for the protagonist. I think the key - for me - is that there has to be something relatable, even if it's relatable to my deepest, darkest thoughts. For example, I disliked every single character in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but when someone asks me my favorite contemporary novel, it immediately comes to mind because I experienced such strong feelings while reading it.

Offline Kal241

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #30 on: June 11, 2018, 05:36:43 PM »
I haven't yet read a book with an MC that I hated or disliked. Plenty of secondary characters I disliked, and almost every villain I hated.

The way I see it, characters can be viewed multiple ways. Ask two readers what they think of a character, and you may not get the same answer. Someone found your character unlikeable, but did everyone? If so, why? A character can be a jerk at times, so long as there is a reason for it. In my experience, people tend to hate the characters who are horrible just for the sake of being horrible.

Think of it like Anakin Skywalker vs. Darth Vader. People hate Anakin because he's the MC, was a nice guy, but turned into a jerk. Apart from the whole 'my wife may die and my mom is dead' thing, he had no legitimate reason to be a jerk. So really, he's a jerk for the sake of being a jerk. That's an automatic "I hate you" from plenty of people. Nobody hates Vader for being a jerk, because he's the bad guy; they're supposed to be jerks. It's only later that you find out why he's a jerk, which sheds a sympathetic light on him. Point is, you want Vader, not Anakin.

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #31 on: June 11, 2018, 05:48:19 PM »
Reading a book is like going on a long car ride with a stranger. You don't want someone you hate, or someone you know. You want interesting, someone that you can relate to and like but is still far enough away from you to carry a conversation. I have good friends I won't go on car trips with because we've known each other too long, and strangers that I'd love to get in the car with.

If I hate your character then I'm out. Nothing else matters, not the scenery, conversation or how interesting they are. Writing a redeemed character is always tricky because the core has to stay in that sweet spot while the outside behaviors change. I've known addicts that were crap while they were using and even worse crap once they quit and the opposite.

I have an excel spread sheet that I go over with my Beta Readers with a series of questions they rate 1 to 5 and some that are open ended.
What's your favorite character?
What's the one word you'd use to describe the MC?

If I get the feeling that the MC is trending toward jerk or weak I start tuning the story up to weed that out. Look at TV, how many shows would you watch if you hated the lead? I bet it won't be anywhere near the amount you'd watch if you liked them. And that says it all. Doesn't matter if it's one or a hundred that are turned off by an MC they don't like, the point is that you'd have more success with a more likable one. That doesn't mean cutting out complex issues or [crap] behavior but it does mean making sure you keep it inside the rails.

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Offline Jenwrites

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #32 on: June 11, 2018, 05:49:31 PM »
Don't write a character simply to make them likeable. Write a character who perfectly fits the story. We all have our preferences, and some will like your character while others won't. It doesn't hurt to understand why someone might not like the MC, but that doesn't mean you change the character simply to please one person. If your character is perfectly suited for the story, and you gave the reader the experience you wanted them to have, then that's all that matters.
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Offline PamelaKelley

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #33 on: June 11, 2018, 05:56:16 PM »
99% of the time, I want a likable main character. But every now and then I enjoy someone who is unlikable but interesting. Gone Girl is a perfect example. I pretty much hated Amy and was annoyed with Nick, but the story was fascinating and I am in the minority but I thought the ending was perfect. They got exactly what they deserved.

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #34 on: June 11, 2018, 06:07:06 PM »
What if the main character is the bad guy? But likable?

Then he's not unlikeable! We can cheer for a bad guy, if properly presented.

Offline thegreenheron

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #35 on: June 11, 2018, 06:36:39 PM »
You can't please everyone; likability is subjective. Think of Holden Caulfield. Take a poll and you'll find people who both love the character and hate him.

For me, I need to find a character I can latch onto in a story. That's why I never liked, "The Great Gatsby." I can appreciate Fitzgerald for his beautiful prose and symbolism, but I found the characters in the novel so insipid and so unlikable that I could not like the book.

That said, I find redemption stories very powerful, and any good redemption story needs a fairly unlikable MC. How can you not like the story of the Grinch? But if I stick with an unlikable character, I want the payoff of seeing them redeemed at the end. If I don't get that payoff, I leave the book feeling unsatisfied.

Offline AnnaB

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #36 on: June 11, 2018, 06:47:37 PM »
I don't need to find the protagonist(s) likeable, but if I don't they'd better be very interesting for some other reason(s), and/or be the best point of view from which to bring to life whatever events are narrated through their lens.

Offline C. Gold

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #37 on: June 11, 2018, 06:53:12 PM »
Hannibal, the series. That guy is charismatic, creepy, funny, horrifying, and a lot of other stuff but he's super interesting and you can't wait to see who he tricks into eating his people food next.  :o

John Wick. Assassin. Does evil things. But we root for him because of the puppy.

The Punisher and many other anti-heroes who do some pretty mean things but they do it to those who deserve it. In general, if your unlikable person is taking out even more unlikable evil people, then they are elevated to likable.

Prince of Thorns and Thomas Covenant are fantasy series that some people hate, others love. The main characters in both are repellent. But interesting to many.

Raistlin in Dragonlance was my favorite character even though he was only interested in growing his magic power to the exclusion of even his physical health. Why did I love him so? Because he had a soft spot for the weak and got dealt a very bad start in life. His beginnings made him who he was. He was interesting and made me root for him. He was the lost soul you wanted desperately to see saved. Those other characters around him were 1-D while he was complex.

Same with Snape in Harry Potter. I loved his character. He reminded me a lot of Raistlin.

I could go on.

I also think male characters get an easier pass on likeable even as they are doing bad things. A woman doing bad things is seen as whiny, weak, shallow, airhead, b*tchy, immature, nag, insufferable, slut, frigid, or other derogatory term because of society. If women aren't nurturing and wholesome, people tend to see them as unlikable. This is why the guy can sleep around before meeting the right girl, but have the woman sleep around a lot and suddenly that romance isn't as popular. I think sometimes women are our own worst critics.

I need to relate in some way to the main character. I love evil people who have to suddenly do something to save the world or save someone they love or get revenge. If they even love one person besides themselves, then there is a redeeming quality. Or they are a Riddick where you send an evil to take out a greater evil.

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #38 on: June 11, 2018, 06:55:34 PM »
You can't please everyone; likability is subjective. Think of Holden Caulfield. Take a poll and you'll find people who both love the character and hate him.

For me, I need to find a character I can latch onto in a story. That's why I never liked, "The Great Gatsby." I can appreciate Fitzgerald for his beautiful prose and symbolism, but I found the characters in the novel so insipid and so unlikable that I could not like the book.

That said, I find redemption stories very powerful, and any good redemption story needs a fairly unlikable MC. How can you not like the story of the Grinch? But if I stick with an unlikable character, I want the payoff of seeing them redeemed at the end. If I don't get that payoff, I leave the book feeling unsatisfied.

I honestly can't recall if I've ever read The Great Gatsby.  As an English major in college, I feel sure I probably did, but if so, I honestly don't remember.  And if I didn't, it doesn't sound like a book I'd like.

Getting back on topic, last year I read a book that won a Pulitzer in its day.  I read the whole thing, but I have to say I really did NOT like the main character.  He was a selfish, egomaniacal jerk with major entitlement / superiority issues.  To be honest, I read the entire book hoping for a scene in which he gets his comeuppance.  That doesn't mean the book isn't good, though.
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Offline C. Gold

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #39 on: June 11, 2018, 07:01:06 PM »
I honestly can't recall if I've ever read The Great Gatsby.  As an English major in college, I feel sure I probably did, but if so, I honestly don't remember.  And if I didn't, it doesn't sound like a book I'd like.

Getting back on topic, last year I read a book that won a Pulitzer in its day.  I read the whole thing, but I have to say I really did NOT like the main character.  He was a selfish, egomaniacal jerk with major entitlement / superiority issues.  To be honest, I read the entire book hoping for a scene in which he gets his comeuppance.  That doesn't mean the book isn't good, though.
I hated both Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby because I couldn't relate to the main characters at all. I learned to hate a lot of classic literature in my teens.  >:(

Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #40 on: June 11, 2018, 07:14:10 PM »
Gone Girl is one of my favorite all time novels.
I've read it 5 times and seen the movie twice...

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.
...

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.

I *loved* Gone Girl.

See, I can read about kind of nasty main characters, if they are interesting and have some kind of humane kernel within. But "sad and pathetic"? Now ,that kills me. I think some of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' and Marian Keyes' heroines lean towards sad and pathetic, and though they are two of my favorite popular novelists, that surely diminished my enjoyment of the books in question.

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Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #41 on: June 11, 2018, 07:14:59 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.
Insightful synopsis.

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Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #42 on: June 11, 2018, 07:28:42 PM »
...
I also think male characters get an easier pass on likeable even as they are doing bad things. A woman doing bad things is seen as whiny, weak, shallow, airhead, b*tchy, immature, nag, insufferable, slut, frigid, or other derogatory term because of society. If women aren't nurturing and wholesome, people tend to see them as unlikable. This is why the guy can sleep around before meeting the right girl, but have the woman sleep around a lot and suddenly that romance isn't as popular. I think sometimes women are our own worst critics...
You may be on to something. I think that may be part of the problem with this particular heroine for this particular reader.

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Offline jb1111

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #43 on: June 11, 2018, 07:31:15 PM »
To the OP:
Perhaps the reader was one with whom your main character hit all the wrong buttons, for some reason you'll never be able to figure.

I wouldn't change anything over it. I've had reviews downgrading a few of my characters. I see it as evidence that the writing was effective.

People don't respond that way to poor writing.

And not every reader of the same book is going to see the character in the same light.

I always try to present the main character in some sort of sympathetic light, even if their actual character has major flaws. This is because I think the average reader identifies with a main character to a certain extent.

Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #44 on: June 11, 2018, 07:32:59 PM »
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.
You're right. Snark or even occasional rudeness is not a problem for me. In fact, I kinda like it. But weakness, absolute stupidity or absence of compassion or love for anyone, those are the kiss of death for me.

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Offline Nic

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #45 on: June 11, 2018, 08:15:03 PM »
While it is, remotely, possible to like a book even though you hate the main character, that has never happened to me. If I really hate one of the MCs, I won't finish the book and probably review accordingly. Or in other words: there are a couple of classic romances and romantic novels I like, but "Wuthering Heights" wasn't one of them for obvious reasons. Never mind it being a classic and well-written.

Offline Simon Haynes

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #46 on: June 12, 2018, 02:29:57 AM »
In one of my novels the main character acts like a bit of a jerk for about 80% of it. In the last 20% of the novel he starts to get on top of things, and as a result he becomes more relaxed and likeable. And at the end he makes huge sacrifices to save someone else.

Naturally, I got reviews from people saying they gave up 2/3 the way through because the main character was a jerk.

This is the risk you run with a jerk of a main character - people may not stick around to see if he or she comes good in the end. There has to be some hint of kindness in there, or at least a hint that things may improve.

If I were writing the novel again, I'd have him risking his life in chapter two to save several thousand baby ducklings.


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Offline Mercia McMahon

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #47 on: June 12, 2018, 03:46:55 AM »
I like characters whom I would probably hate to have as a work colleague and would never ever be my friend. But I stop reading a book when its first person perspective narrated by a whiny self-involved so and so who is snarky about everyone else they encounter. I also will not continue reading a book where someone from the English-speaking world visits a non-English speaking country and derides the locals. I don't care if their racism is overcome later in the novel I ain't reading any further in case it isn't. I also stop reading if the main character is a rapist or domestic abuser. Everyone has their standards that make them hate a book and are entitled to put that in a review, but you can't write a character to please everyone as that is an impossible task. PS, I love the character of Heathcliff.


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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #48 on: June 12, 2018, 05:59:43 AM »
I actually just found a book that I hated the mc so much I couldn't stand it. I had to stop reading the book.

He was living is poverty. Working on his art which wouldn't have been an issue, but he refused to get a job because life was all about his art. On the other hand he couldn't pay his bills and he was always having his electric and water turned off. He couldn't afford food. instead of taking work to support himself until his art did he expected his friends to "help" him. He was embarrassed by his poverty but not enough to work to change it. He even thought about prostituting himself for a meal. Not because he was desperate for food but because he liked sex so why not get a free meal for it.

Just ick!

Offline SalomeGolding

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Re: Hate the main character, hate the book?
« Reply #49 on: June 12, 2018, 06:14:17 AM »
You can't please everyone; likability is subjective..
Wise words, which many have echoed. It just kind of makes your head snap back momentarily when a reader says s/he doesn't like a character that you wrote carefully (you think). You start thinking: What could I have done differently? But then you realize that whatever you had done differently, someone wouldn't have liked it.

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