Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Characters - Do They Have To Be Likeable?
I find that as a reviewer I spend a lot of time discussing the characters in the novel I just read. I discuss what I thought of them and how it impacted my enjoyment of the story. Characters have the ability to resonate with us, and stay with us long after the novel's last page as been turned. There are some characters destined to become legend and whose name, and story, will be remembered long after the novel has been published.
For some people it all comes down to likability. Is the character likeable? Are they someone I can relate to? For me these questions are not the ones I ask myself. My questions will always be was this character realistic? Did this character impact me? And was the character flawed? It's these characters, the flawed, layered, conflicted, and sometimes unlikeable that stay with me. My favourite books and characters exist in a shade of grey where right and wrong are often blurred.
Dexter Morgan from the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay is certainly not someone you would "like". He is, however, compelling, complex and fascinating. The same could be said for Jazz from Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers. Both these characters are chilling, yet charming. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho will leave you analyzing him long after you finished Brett Easton Ellis's shocking read.
A young woman haunted by an accident, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and potentially a little unstable. Of course I am referring to Mara Dyer from Michelle Hodkin's amazing The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. She's imperfect, and you may not always like her actions but I was drawn to her. As a selfish, oblivion seeking, guilt ridden socialite Araby Worth from Bethany Griffin's Masque of the Red Death may not be liked by everyone. I found her vulnerable and realistic for the society she lived in. Her guilt, while making her act out, also endeared her to me.
Cassel Sharpe, the main character from Holly Black's Curse Worker's series is another great example. He's capable of becoming a member of the "mafia" type organization that many of his family belong to. His skills lend themselves to criminal activity. Cassel spends a lot of time resisting this side of himself and tries to do right; his version of right is just a skewed. His school betting ring, his walking the fine line between lawful and unlawful, and all while being so charming make him fascinating.
Lastly, Lisbeth Salander from Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy shows a gritty, tough exterior to the outside world. Underneath this is a vulnerability that makes her captivating. Her unlawful computer hacking is matched with her desire to dish out her own brand of justice on men she deems deserving. Her brilliance and intelligence coupled with the tragic events in her life offers a fascinating character study.
I don't need a character to act the hero to enjoy the plot. Give me the misfits, outcasts and deliciously flawed characters. They make the fiction I read much more intriguing and entertaining.
What about you? Does a characters likability matter to you? Are you more interested in an honest, yet story driven, character with flaws? Or do you need there to be something redeemable in your characters? Let me know in the comments.