1. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    Do people care about "whiny" characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ladyphilosophy, May 13, 2013.

    Hi there. This is my first thread as I'm new to the site :) Sorry if this is in the wrong place! I'm just looking for a bit of advice.

    I was planning on posting a more detailed thread about a book I have been wanting to write for quite some time, but I thought I'd post a more generic one first to get some general reactions. I was wondering how people feel about "whiny" characters, normally from novels written in a first person narrative, detailing events of their life that have been largely unfortunate, although not always what some would deem devastating, soul-destroying, etc. Obviously people have different ideas about what is "reasonable" to lament, and I know people can find some characters difficult to sympathise with.

    Take the example of Bella Swan in Twilight. I quite liked the emotional depth of the Twilight Saga when I read it years ago (kinda moved past it a bit now, but still) and I felt really immersed in Bella's heartbreak when Edward left her in New Moon, and I felt her anguish when trying to choose between him and Jacob in Eclipse, but all I ever heard my peers rant on about was how whiny she was, and couldn't she just shut up and get over Edward because Jacob was by far fitter and she was more than lucky to have him after her so she should stop talking about her feelings and get on with it. I understand these people may only have been reading the series for the supernatural/romantic elements and weren't all that concerned about Bella's psychological anguish and reflection, etcetera, but I still just couldn't help thinking if it's only me that likes reading emotionally deep stories where I can really immerse myself in someone else's pain, so long as its intricately detailed and compelling...I don't know if this is weird and masochistic, or if others like to read similar works.

    Basically my question is, do you like to read similar works, or find them too whingey and egotistical? More importantly, if there is a distinction between self-absorbed whining and compelling psychological phenomena, what marks this distinction? Which characters' innermost anguish have you enjoyed reading about, and why? Any comments on the topic would be very useful to me, as I would really love to write about something similarly deep and personal but am just not sure if others would be interested. I need to know how I should attempt to approach this. Thanks.
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    A very common criticism of characters is that they are too whiny. I can't stand them, but it's similar to other undesirable character traits insofar as how much that unlikable aspect detracts from a reader's enjoyment of a story can vary by the individual reader. Sometimes you can have a good story, even if a character is somehow unlikable or irritating. However, often I find it difficult to enjoy a novel that features an MC who is excessively whiny or irritating. I encounter that enough in my real life that I really don't need it in my fiction reading. That said, there are plenty of those characters out there in successful published novels, so obviously they don't bother everyone as much as they bother me.

    Emotionally Deep does not equate to whiny. Deep and personal thoughts don't have to be, and I don't think usually are whiny. I love emotionally deep -- one of my most common criticisms is that a story does not delve deep enough into the psyche and feelings and emotions and thoughts of the characters. But I don't like whiny.

    I've never read the Twilight series, so I really can't comment on the level of emotional depth.
     
  3. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    I have to agree with the above post.
    I can't stand whiny characters. I think it should be possible to let someone whine in a book, but please, not the whole novel. It might be more interesting if it's part of the evolution of a character, but I cannot recall reading such a book.
    About Bella: I disliked her because she was, in my eyes, weak. I don't need a story filled with extremely strong women... but I hate weak characters.
     
  4. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    Maybe you should all ignore the Twilight bit - probably a bad example :/
    I think if I re-read it now I may not view it as quite as complex and wonderful as I did when I was about thirteen or whatever. Just illustrating a point :)
     
  5. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    Perhaps I should draw focus to the question of, what exactly constitutes a compelling, emotionally deep character? Are there specific examples of characters that have fascinated you?
     
  6. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    - Harry from the Harry Potter (Rowling) series (though they are children/YA books). In the Other of The Phoenix he is really interesting since he is having an internal battle.
    - Pi from Life of P ( Martel) I was amazed by this book.
    - David Lurie from Disgrace (Coetzee) he is an example of a well written character I dislike. He can be a little whiny sometimes, but not annoyingly.

    There are more but these three are the ones that directly popped into my mind.
     
  7. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    Yeah I agree with the Harry Potter/Order of the Phoenix one, I found that story really enthralling too, I kept crying when nobody believed him and he was all isolated :( Been a while since I read HP but obviously there is a lot of other stuff going on to keep it interesting. I haven't read the other two (seen Life of Pi at cinema though) but will have to have a look :)
     
  8. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    Life of Pi is a very special book... I was surprised how a book about being lost on sea could hold my attention so easily. Though I believe it's not for everyone.
    I had to read Disgrace for my Lit. Class on Nobel Prize winners and I wasn't expecting much of it but it blew me away. It takes place in South Africa.
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To me a whiny character is such that the writer has written him/her to complain about something trivial while there is usually something big going on in the story, or if she's a girl whose biggest problem is to choose between two hot guys (or vice versa, though men seem to end up in these situations quite rarely :p).

    If the character is thrown in shit creek without a pedal or a canoe, s/he's entitled to whine. But s/he has to also be active, try to get her/himself out of the creek instead of wait for someone to save her/his ass.

    These two instances I can think of when a character can come off annoyingly whiny.
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If you want to compare a whiny character to a compelling character who is isolated and never satisfied with life, I suggest reading The Catcher in the Rye (whiny character) by Salinger and Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky.
     
  11. La_Donna
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    La_Donna Member

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    I think the difference between whiny/emotionally deep is there is a very fine line between them. I think people were annoyed with Bella because she never did anything to get herself out of her emotional traumas, but just thought about them and did not act on them.

    I think one character who I really liked as "emotionally deep" in a fairly popular book was Aliena in Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It's set in twelfth century England and Aliena is raped by the antagonist and her brother is forced to watch when she is about 17, just after her father's been jailed and her friends been murdered. But the really interesting thing is how she copes with this trauma. Over the next five years she is terrified of men, and hates to be touched, and doesn't trust anyone bar her brother. But eventually she meets the protagonist and they fall in love, but she has the trauma that she wants to be with him but at the same time is absolutely terrified of being with him because of the rape, and feels he is just trying to sleep with her to be aggressive or to score points. She pushes him away so many times, and you can just read her confusion off the page.

    At the same time, she's still got to live near her rapist who is a local lord, but instead of just breaking down and crying she is really strong and builds a wool business (almost impossible for a woman) and funds her brothers aspirations to be a knight. So instead of just giving in to her emotional trauma, she fights back and continues to build her business and scupper her rapist's plans at all opportunities. And that is what I think is the difference between a whiner and an emotionally complex character.
     
  12. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    To me Harry Potter always seemed the most whinny character (except from a few examples like the Grinch and the guy from Jules Verne's From Earth to Moon). Well, up until the day I read Twilight anyway...
    Severus Snape is probably one of the best (if not the best) example of a well written character arcs that you will find in the literary works of the last 50 years or so.
    The polar opposite would be Bella from (you guessed it) twilight, which is probably the worst character of the last 100 years.

    If you are talking about Holden I vigorously disagree. And the Underground Man was not excessively whiny. He was more philosophical and because of that (and him being in pain from his tooth and liver if I remember correctly) he was bitching rather than whining.
     
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    That's fine. I understand the whole teenage angst thing going on, but it's just something I don't identify with. I've always thought that The Catcher in the Rye was an overrated book. Besides, I think the concept of alienated youth has lost some of its meaning over the years.

    Yeah, which is why, like I said in my previous post, I want the OP to read Notes from Underground to see what a "compelling character who is isolated and never satisfied with life" looks like.
     
  14. muscle979
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    muscle979 Member

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    I think Arya Stark from George Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series is a great character and certainly compelling. Agree with the people who have mentioned Harry Potter. Most of the main characters in that series are pretty good actually.
     
  15. sierraromeobravo
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    sierraromeobravo Member

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    I barely survived what little I read of Twilight and Hunger Games because they just whined the whole time. That might be because it's a teenage girl deciding on boys...which doesn't interest me at all. I did just recently complete a huge revise of a character in my current book because all she did was whine and everyone that read it said she needed to go away. I think there's a fine line between what is legitimate whining and annoying...like what KaTrian said. If they're in a bad place, like "Life of Pi" then it's easier to understand and it's not annoying, but if the whining can be stopped and the whole storyline can collapse because it's easy to fix the issue they're whining about then it's annoying.

    Also, I agree with the Harry Potter examples.
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I hate 'em. I hated the Harry Potter book where he was a whiney kid and loved the rest of them.

    But, if done right, any character can be interesting.

    I never felt Bella was whiney but I had a few other issues with various Bella parts of that story.

    I don't recall any whiney parts of Katness Everdeen that I didn't like.
     
  17. suddenly BANSHEES
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    The love triangle was a big part of Twilight, but it was only a minor subplot in Hunger Games (the first book, at least - I haven't read the others). Katniss has some legitimate reasons to "whine," seeing as she was forced into an arena full of child murder by a crazy oppressive future government and all that. Personally, I didn't find Katniss whiny or annoying at all. She was a kid in a terrible situation, and she handled herself pretty well.

    (On a side-note: I've seen tons of people comparing Hunger Games to Twilight, even though they aren't similar at all, aside from the fact that they're popular young adult books with female protagonists. Unless the later HG books have Katniss fighting the vampire illuminati with a CGI baby.)
     
  18. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    This actually makes a lot of sense.
     
  19. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I read the first Hunger Games book for my book club, and I did not find Katniss to be whiny. I only read the first one, though, so I suppose that could change in the later books. I read very little YA or MG books, so maybe there are more whiners in those.

    I also don't find Harry Potter to be a particularly deep character, although I'm only on the third book. Again, since I read so little MG, I could be judging too harshly. I suspect it's more difficult to have a truly deep character for a young age group.

    Perhaps there is some trouble with the definition of "whining." For me, there is a connotation of a lack of desire and ability to help one's self out of a situation, and to eschew any responsibility for undesirable consequences. It's complaint without action. Characters can be in bad situations and rightfully feel dismay or despair. Acknowledging that does not equate to whining in my book, especially if the character acceptss responsibility for being in the situation and/or for getting out of it.
     
  20. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    HG and twilight are similar in that they both fail as whatever they are supposed to be. Katniss wasn't whiny but she was extremely annoying nonetheless (not to mention inconsistent and unlikeable).
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i can't abide them, either... and wouldn't waste time reading about one, if s/he's the m/c...
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    Did you read the either of those works? It doesn't sound like it.
     
  23. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Personally, I hate whiny characters. And when I find myself reading a book in which all the mc is doing is complaining -
    oh-woe-is-me - I usually stop reading. I like a character who has to make difficult choices. And I don't want the choices undermined by the mc telling me how
    rotten the world is every five seconds.

    I also find whiny characters particularly bothersome when the biggest dilemma he or she faces in a week is a hang-nail or a homework assignment.

    Angst has its place but I personally think its way over done, and in the wrong hands poison for your characters.
     
  24. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Read both (twilight was forced on my by my ex girlfriend). Hate them still.
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I can understand anyone liking or not liking a particular piece, and more than a few people find Twilight shallow.

    But what was it about the Hunger Games you expected that you think failed?
     

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