Saturday, April 15, 2006

I am pondering the unlikeable main character - how do you get away with it? I'm still perservering with "A Ship Made of Paper", only because the author uses other point-of-view characters which provide some relief. But I still find the main character is just awful - self-indulgent, over-emotional and pretentious. I doubt that the author intended me to feel this way. Or maybe he did?
I have written a couple of things (short stories, mostly) where readers have commented that the main character was unlikeable. When I say readers, I mean editors who have given this as a reason for rejection. I guess we really want to love those characters and to care about what happens to them. Kids want this as much as any adult reader, but I think adult readers are more forgiving, more aware of the grey areas. But more than anything, the m.c. we care about is going to lead to the best-selling book.
I think also this begins with the writer caring about their characters. And not just caring as in "I made this person up for my story and I like them", but more like "I have spent weeks and months with this character, I gave them all these problems and I really want them to win through". Books written quickly may not have enough character depth because the writer hasn't gone deep enough.
It's a problem with student novels and stories that I read and assess. Often they are writing this novel or story because it's required for class, and although we do lots of character development stuff, it's up to them to create characters they love and stories they want and need to tell. Student writers who can "wow" me with things written quickly and for class are rare. I would guess that 95% of students never finish the novel they start for their class.
I have a middle grade novel that I have been working on for over two years, and I still don't feel as if I have really got to grips with the main character. This has come from beginning the novel with an idea based on setting, and then developing a character to live in and engage with it. It's not the way I usually do it, and it has caused me immense problems, trying to work out where the story (i.e. what the character does and why) really lies.
I love sassy YA, where the voice is funny and sarcastic and wry and ironic - but it's hard to write this without sounding whiny and depressing. And that brings me back to the book I am reading. I suppose I will finish it now to see if he gets his just desserts. And it even has an endorsement by Anne Tyler on the front.
I remind myself that I can learn from books I dislike as much as those I love!

1 comment:

Kelly Gardiner said...

Have you read Geraldine Brooks' March?
Fundamentally unlikeable character, but still you somehow care about him.
She creates him so subty you don't quite realise until near the end that both aspects are operating.