1. Pandemonia
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    Pandemonia Member

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    Do you have to like your main character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Pandemonia, Jun 3, 2014.

    This is something I've been pondering for a while. In the past I've shelved story plot lines simply because I realized that I didn't like the MC very much.

    I would think that you would have to save some degree of liking for your MC, otherwise you couldn't care enough about what happens to him/her.

    Have you ever tried to work with a MC that you just didn't care for? How do you get around that?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I always like my main character even if he's a jerk. Usually, their arc is how they become not so much of a jerk, though I do have at least one who starts out lovable and becomes a jerk. I don't know what I think about that one. ;)

    If I simply didn't like my MC, I wouldn't write the story. Why would I want to spend that much time with him if all he does is annoy me?
     
  3. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly. Sure, a few MCs have been a handful, some more than others, but I love them all.

    Sometimes I have annoying side characters or perhaps an annoying POV character (but not the main protagonist), but even they have to have some qualities that I like/interest me or I won't care enough to go through the trouble of writing them. Mind, I don't have to think the character is a good person: they could be complete assholes, but as long as they're interesting assholes, it's enough.
    When it comes to main protags, I do have to like them too.
     
  4. WeWill77
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    WeWill77 Member

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    There are infinite ways to frame a story and infinite perspectives available to the writer.

    I disagree that you have to like the main character. I'd suggest checking out the book Choke (although I'm sure this isn't the only book like this.) The whole point is for you to hate the character, and Pahlianuk states that in a disclaimer on the page before the book begins. I don't want to say anymore about that book, though, or else I'd spoil it; but it's certainly worth reading. A great work of art.

    I think the point of the character isn't necessarily to relate to them or to like them, but rather to explore the experience(s) had by someone somewhere at some point in time.

    The likeable main character might be one of those rules, though, that you have to break in a certain way. I'd suggest drawing attention to the fact that the character is not a great person or necessarily likeable. And there should be a reason for it, but there's also reasons for why you like a character, so I don't think providing the reason to like or dislike a character is really anything outside of normal storytelling.

    (sorry for the edits and any confusion. I shouldn't post so hastily....)
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2014
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  5. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yup, it's a good idea to differentiate between a nice, goody-two-shoes -MC and one that you like. I like plenty of heroes/heroines, but I like villains too as well as some characters who would commonly be seen as assholes.
    Those are all characters I could have as my MC (after all, I've also had an MC who was a psychopath and truly enjoyed killing), but I wouldn't be able to be motivated enough to write a full-length novel about a character that annoyed me/I didn't like on any level.
     
  6. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    You need to like them as characters, not friends. I've got some real bastards I really like, because they're funny, vicious, and down right mean. They amuse me. My thought is that if you don't like them, who will?
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I guess I'm old fashioned, but yes, I have to like my main character—especially my POV character—in order to write about him or her.

    That doesn't mean they have to be perfect people—they'd be pretty boring if they were—but I do have to identify with them. I need to understand their thought processes, and be able to think if I were in their shoes, that's what I'd probably do. This means characters who are off my emotional radar will not be my main characters. I would be very unlikely to identify with a bully, or somebody who enjoys torturing animals or people weaker than themselves, for example. I would not like somebody who manipulates others in order to watch them squirm. These kinds of characters may well exist in my story, but they won't be my main characters.

    That's just the way I write, though. Other writers find challenges in making an 'unlikeable' person their main character or even their POV character. You can develop a lot of insight into human behavior by adopting an unpleasant persona for the duration of a story, I imagine. Fantastic, if that works for you.
     
  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    The way I look at it is this: Your main character can be a complete self-centered asshole, but there has to be some qualities about him/her that you like, otherwise why are you wasting your time with them? Or why are they not the antagonist instead? You also have to show the readers that even they make mistakes, and when they do, they must face the consequences.

    I have a few protagonists who do things we would considered good for selfish reasons. Money, glory, it boosts their ego ('I alone can solve this, so stand aside!') whatever. Give them some good qualities like protecting the weak/animals, things that we would relate to. Only rather than deal with the issue like we would, they deal with it in their way. For example, a non-jerk protagonist might confront a bully and verbally talk them down without much drama. My not-so-nice protagonist? Humiliation, stage a show for the audience around them to observe his/her glorious trouncing of the bully and bask in the glow of the cheers (through his/her imagination, of course.)

    Come to think of it, I like my not-so-nice protagonists as they're wholly unpredictable. They don't have a strict set of guidelines that they adhere themselves to. They'll do whatever they think it takes to solve the issue. Of course, there should be a line that he/she would never cross even if they wanted to. As egotistical/mean as they are, they still should be sympathetic to the readers. Maybe there are things they would never do, or maybe they check their ego and only let it out when the time is appropriate. If they do end up acting in a way that would go against what readers expected of them, I would think they would demand he/she pay for it. For example, in the aforementioned 'humiliating the bully' scenario, if I then revealed that the bully was an orphan who was being physically and mentally abused by his alcoholic caretakers, that would make readers lose a whole lot of respect and sympathy for my main character. They would demand that he/she make up for it in some form or fashion. They would demand that he/she feel some form of guilt, for me to show that even an asshole protagonist must suffer the consequences.
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've written several short stories where I didn't care for the main character.

    Even if you don't care for the main character, if he/she is interesting, that can carry you through some, but for a novel length work it would be helpful if you enjoyed them at least a bit.
     
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  10. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    My take: I like good characters. Whether the character is a good guy, a bastard, a nice girl, a bitch, that antagonist you love to hate, that side character you hate to love, whatever. As long as the character is good, I'll like him or her.

    So if I don't like my own character, that's a huge red flag.
     
  11. pirate1802
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    pirate1802 Member

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    Agreed, sometimes I have protagonists who are assholes, greedy bastards etc, but still they have some silver lining, some vulnerability that makes them endearing when it's exposed. If I have absolutely nothing I like my in my protagonists, it is very hard (at least for me) to invest in them, their future. And I guess if I find it hard, my audience will find it harder, if at all possible.
     
  12. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    I think it's more important to make your MC likeable to others than liking it yourself, unless it's supposed to be hated or controversial (like Light Yagami for example).
     
  13. Larissa Redeker
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    Larissa Redeker Active Member

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    If you are following the path of R.R. Martin: No. You'll kill your MC soon or later :p

    I think you need to like them enough to make them alive, and be loved or hated by readers.
     
  14. Oswiecenie
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    Oswiecenie Active Member

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    If not even the writer likes the MC, how on earth is he/she supposed to be likeable to the readers? Writing an MC you do not care about is a sure way to writing a bland character.
     
  15. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    My MC is just a natural misanthrope. He has no reason to be the asshole he is. In order to create some sort of sympathy for him, I am rewriting some recent drama in his life that could make him so miserable. Do I like him? No, I fucking love him!
     
  16. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    There's also a difference between liking a character and making them likable. Making a character so everyone likes them is impossible and only results in dull characters.
     
  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes. I can have characters I don't like in my ms, but they can't be the main character. For me that would be like bunking up in the Holiday Inn with Hannibal Lector - no thanks.
     
  18. FarmerBrown
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    FarmerBrown New Member

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    Totally agree. Also: "likability" does not equal "relate-ability". For me, writing a MC I don't like is a challenge and forces me to come up with other ways to make him likable/relate-able/redeemable. Sometimes, likable is boring. Sometimes, likable doesn't mean readable or relate-able. I guess you need to ask yourself is WHY you don't like the character. Is it his personality? Something he did? Or is the real problem with how you're writing the character? Maybe you wouldn't hang out with your character in real life, but if he's making an impression on you, I think that's a good thing ;-)
     
  19. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    It depends on what you mean by 'like'. As a reader many of my favourite characters are people I would be very unlikely to get on with in real life, and who I strongly disagree with. But they interest me, and sometimes there's a certain charm in an odious character - in my case it's usually if they're especially frank about their odiousness, I love self-aware bad guys.

    So, as a writer I guess I'd be happy to write that kind of character, someone I wouldn't go for a drink with but whose story I'd be fascinated to read. But if I found a character boring or I just didn't care about them I'd have a re-think, because that can't possibly be a good sign.
     
  20. Pandemonia
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    Pandemonia Member

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    Well, I was all prepared at the beginning to hate my rockstar character but the more I get into his mind the more I'm warming up to him. Anyone ever had that happen?
     

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