1. Sen507
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    Sen507 New Member

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    An MC Who the Reader Will Hate?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sen507, Jan 6, 2015.

    I made a topic about this on the NaNoWriMo forums in November, but a lot of members seemed to miss my point entirely and just gave me suggestions on how to change the character, so I’ll try to explain it a bit better. I’m going to stay very vague since I’m uncomfortable sharing some plot details publicly, so please bear with me. The novel I’m currently working on is told in the first person by Marcus, an extremely self-centered teenager who believes himself to be morally superior to all of “society” (as a blanket term here referring to everyone who is involved in his daily life aside from himself). However, a decision of his ends up creating a big psychological conflict for him causing him to view himself as a horrible person, yet he still deep down believes that it is this “society” that is labeling him as such and not himself allowing him to maintain his underlying belief that he understands the world in a greater complexity than others do (and that he can use this to justify anything). From this point on, there are two secondary characters who play a large role in his character development: Madi who eventually ends up showing him that he’s the one criticizing himself and Milo whose life he saves in a sense. Furthermore, he is also in a world which he has no experience with for this portion of the story so he ends up being the clueless one always being told what’s going on instead of the mastermind he imagines himself to be.

    The thing is, by the end of the story he’s still the same character and it’s a debated topic in the plot whether he ever had the potential to change. He hasn’t made a 180 from his previous personality and while he does switch one critical viewpoint which he uses to help someone else, he’s still doing it for largely selfish motives. If anything, he learns that he can’t make up excuses to justify his actions and instead sees them as separate from who he is rather than his identity, but this isn’t a satisfying conclusion for the reader and almost makes it seem like he’s getting his way instead of actually developing. He’s a character that really can’t (for the purpose of the story to work) be too likeable and I have a feeling that many readers would end up hating him, possibly even more so when he helps someone else. His style of thinking remains cynical and harsh throughout much of the story as well. So, I’m not looking to change who he is or the story’s plotline, I’m asking whether readers can tolerate a story told by a very opinionated main character who does go through some development, but still remains largely selfish and unlikeable by the end of the story? If I do have to change this for the book to be readable, let me know, but please also give your personal reasoning behind this. There is a much more likeable character who does go through large changes and plays an important role in the story, but the message is much more powerful being told from Marcus’ point of view. The genre is also supernatural literary fiction, so there is a large amount of text spent delving into all of his beliefs and morals (the whole prologue is him talking another version of himself in a dreamscape of sorts that he created), though these are ones that many readers may disagree with.

    I apologize for the dense post, I tend to ramble when discussing my stories.
     
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  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi, welcome to the forum. I find your premise extremely intriguing and think if you can write such a character well, readers would enjoy the book. Characters don't have to be heroes or lovable or even empathetic to be fascinating.
     
  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    One of my favourite stories was a classic "I fought the law and the law won". He was a pretty unsavoury character, and his death in a gunfight in the final chapter was unexpected, insofar as I (the reader) was sufficiently involved with the character to want him to get away, but it was only to be expected in view of his life of crime. What really made him work as a character was that the conflict that he was resolving saw him seeking vengeance for the murder of a collaborator, so he was, for all his evil deeds, the good guy.
     
  4. Glasswindows
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    Glasswindows Member

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    I think it's quite contradictory to want the reader to hate the maincharacter. Since on many ways disliking something is not understanding that something. The reason it barely - if ever - happens is because the book represents things from that persons viewpoint even if it's not exactly revealing his thoughts it is the same as watching at the world from his sitation. And this will make the reader understand them quite well. Even though we are all different we are still governed by our enviroment.

    Your maincharacter is obviously twisted mentally, which alone gives a reason for an "observer" not to judge the person with normal criteria. And would make any judgment quite invalid. Hating consists a lot of judgment.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You don't have to change it to make the book readable. Just concentrate on writing the story very well. If you do that, you'll find readers who will go along with you, even if not all of them will.
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The trick is making your MC absolutely fascinating. Now I've never read these books (and I know I should), but think of Lolita and American Psycho, both told from the POV of unsavory characters, yet they're global classics. Maybe read them and see how their authors did it? It's definitely doable. Your MC doesn't have to be likeable, but if he's unlikeable, then he must be fascinating as all heck, always keeping the reader wondering what he's going to do next. Think of the news, and genres like horror - you're disgusted and hooked at the same time. It's that you're trying to achieve, I think.

    So, you need to do that, and make sure your writing is perfect. Write it well enough and plenty of people will go along the ride with you.
     
  7. Laeta
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    Laeta New Member

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    I normally like the unsavory characters in main roles, mostly because they are often well balanced characters with lots of interesting background and interesting character insights. Good people tend to be good, just because that's the way it should be (i.e. boring). So the most important thing for me would be if the character is balanced. Why is he so self-centered? Trauma, insecurity, psychopathic/narcistic personality traits? Is it a defense mechanism or just his character? Does he care about other people, and if not, why?

    There is nothing bad about an unlikable character in my opinion, I actually think it's quite interesting. As long, as with any character, it's a well rounded individual, and not one or two (unlikable) traits personified.
     
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  8. Sen507
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    Sen507 New Member

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    @Glasswindows
    I guess one of my problems is deciding how deeply I really want the reader to understand the MC. I give his complete thought processes at times, but the reader can only end up understanding him as much as he understands himself (and that would be in a perfect world). He is definitely a very realistic and personal character to me, but part of his conflict is that he both loves himself, but actively wants others to hate him, be confused about him and misunderstand him on some level (because to him, that proves that his view of the world is more complex than what others can grasp).

    @Mckk
    Thanks for the advice! I've never read those books, but I may look into them when I have a bit more time. He's not a villain in the story and never purposefully sets out to hurt anyone, but ends up causing pain through his lack of consideration of how his actions will affect others. I personally find his viewpoints very fascinating and it's not a type of voice used often in literature, but I'm not sure how other people would feel about him.

    @Laeta
    To be honest, Marcus is probably the most realistic character I've written for me personally, but not a type I see in literature often. He doesn't have a traumatic past (obviously his childhood has had ups and downs and his parents' personalities grossly simplified are a hypocritical psychologist and a writer who cares almost only about profit, there's just no defining traumatic moment), but rather ends up creating a sort of torment for himself over time by trying to understand too much and having trouble knowing what to focus on. It has a lot to do with his concepts about the mental reference frames that people choose, which is explained in more detail in the story. He has trouble controlling his reference frames and this can lead to very small issues seeming like very big ones to him and vice versa. He can care about and empathize with specific other people, but often becomes too wrapped up in his immediate concerns to consider them or makes large generalizations to justify them as being unimportant. He does see himself as a genius of sorts (which he isn't), but is afraid of finding others like him or learning that his ideas aren't all unique and brilliant.

    I apologize for any typos, these replies were written up on my iPhone.
     
  9. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's hard for us to answer your question without reading your whole story, but no, your character doesn't have to be likable. However, there should be *something* that shows us he's not just 100% bad. In my writing group, we call this the give-the-character-a-cat fix. That means that if, for example, you have a really horrible character who kills people and just hates everyone, you need to show that he's not simply the incarnation of evil. So if he has a pet cat that he cares for, and takes great pains to care for and protect, that shows that somewhere within him is a human that is at least capable of feeling love/compassion/caregiving. It also gives us something to identify with and gives you an interesting little twist/personality issue that you can use in the story.

    (Obviously, it doesn't have to be a cat, specifically.)
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Sen507 - glad to be of help :) Lolita (by Nabokov) is taken from first person perspective of a pedophile, and American Psycho I believe is also first person, from the POV of, well, a psychopath. So, like I said, unsavory to say the least, yet they were a success. Don't worry - you'll be just fine! There's also Perfume by Patrick Suskind, written in 3rd person omniscient, that follows the life of a born murderer. That one I did read and loved :)
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Humbert Humbert (Lolita) isn't a pedophile, but he's a pretty sick bastard. The book is a good example of how to write an engaging and interesting character who really is a horrible person.
     
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    He isn't? And he's called Humbert Humbert!!?
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, hahaha. Humbert Humbert is the protagonist's name. Maybe @GingerCoffee or someone else in a clinical field will clarify, but my understanding is that pedophiles are attracted to prepubescent children who have not developed secondary sexual characteristics. Humbert Humbert is attracted to girls who have basically just gone through puberty - 12 or 13 years old. Not that it is any better, but I think it is technically not pedophilia when secondary sexual characteristics are present.

    EDIT: Great book, BTW. Worth the read. Nabokov's use of language alone makes it worth it.
     
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  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    H. Humbert is categorized as a hebephile, I believe.

    In terms of the OP - your character reminds me of Holden Caulfield. Holden was a jackass, thought everyone in the world but him was a phony, etc... but he was also intensely vulnerable, and the reader was able to see that. I think I agree with chicagoliz that there should be something about the character to give us a way in. Vulnerabilty, humour, traumatic past - something.
     
  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like Nabokov was just having fun with the name haha! Yeah, an adult man being attracted to girls aged 12-13 isn't any better really... Well - attracted but never acted upon is okay. I'm aware there're pedophiles who have never acted upon their impulses, and I don't condemn them.

    Yeah I want to read it at some point! I heard about the butterfly signature thing in Nabokov's work - is it hard to find?
     
  16. Sen507
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    Sen507 New Member

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    @BayView
    I do agree with you. Actually, when I was trying to think of similar characters in popular works, Holden was definitely the closest that I could come up with. I'm a big fan of Salinger's work and while Catcher in the Rye is not one of my favorites of his, I understand how he is able to make that character structure work in context. As for making the character understandable/relatable, I think the best reply I can give at the moment (partially due to lack of time and partially due to the fact that I'm still developing the story) would be my response to Laeta in which I explain Marcus' personality in a little more detail. I should add that while he doesn't exactly have a tragic past, the present of the story is very tragic for him and he is far from what I'd call a happy person despite his vanity. It's pretty difficult to describe him without giving away many details of the story unfortunately.
     
  17. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I am much less concerned with your character being unlikeable as I am with his failure to grow. If your character doesn't grow and evolve then the reader can't grow and evolve. If I'm reading a book and the authors intention is to leave me as the same person putting it down as I was picking it up, I just wasted my time reading it.
     
  18. Sen507
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    Sen507 New Member

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    @Jack Asher
    Well, I suppose I have to drop a few more spoilers/plot points for that to make sense. The main character is dead during the whole story (aside from flashbacks to his life) and so his past is what he holds onto, rather than his future. There are a lot of interpretations on ghosts/spirits in literature, but many involve a concept of being almost frozen in time or the remnants of certain emotions rather than an actual person who has potential to change. I can't glorify the afterlife or I'll be skewing the purpose of the story again. I wouldn't say the character doesn't go through changes at all, his outlook at any given point in the novel may vary greatly from that of another (though the driving emotions the same), but the part that is meant to be unclear is whether he really is a different person by the end of the novel or not. Unable to save himself, he helps another (living) character grow into the person who he (Marcus) wasn't able to be. While this does debatably save the other character's life, it is still an inherently selfish act. Milo ( the secondary character who Marcus helps) undergoes a huge amount of character development largely due to the main character, but the main character himself is unable to fully change (though his mental/psychological development as he grew up from a toddler to a teen is pretty well covered due to his fixation on the past). While there does need to be change present in a story, I wouldn't say that the reader doesn't gain anything if a character doesn't change since there's still the chance to see the world through someone else's lens, the piece would just be more so an essay than a story because it would be driving one thesis rather than using time and change to let a reader take away their own interpretations. It's fine if the story is still uninteresting to you, I just thought I'd elaborate a bit more.
     
  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    For me personally, you just made your story sound a whole lot more interesting. I think I'd actually read this! :)
     
  20. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's fine that he's unlikable as long as he's got some motivations in his life and he develops over the course of the story 'cause that gives a feeling of the story going somewhere, that there is something for us to look forward to.

    I read one Norwegian novel called Fatso years ago where the MC constantly grossed me out (not 'cause he was obese, it was his personality), but the writing was so good, the character so realistic and oddly relatable that even though I didn't much like him, I enjoyed the novel.

    So go for it. I personally love broken characters, and those who don't like em, don't have to read about them.
     
  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dude....The guy is attracted to prepubescent girls, age 14 being the cut off. According to Wikipedia, pedophilia as a medical diagnosis has a cutoff of 13. He's definitely a pedophile.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think she is adolescent in the novel, not prepubescent. I think Humbert is pretty clear that's the stage he is interested in.
     
  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    She's already had sex with another guy by the time HH gets to her, right? And he likes... nymphs, he calls them? Yeah, as I recall he was all about the adolescence, the blossoming, etc.
     
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  24. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There was something about "nymphettes", wasn't there? I always thought he was a pedo, but back when I read it, I didn't know about all the classifications of creepy behavior. At the beginning, HH admired other girls than Lolita, too. I imagined children back then, but I haven't the book so can't check it.
     
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  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @KaTrian the others are adolescent as well. That seems to be what triggers Humbert, and his butterfly analogies. Like I said, still sick but I don't know whether that still qualifies as pedophilia. Does pedophilia end at adolescence or only once puberty is complete?
     

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