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  1. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    First impression: Bad person.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by HorusEye, Sep 21, 2010.

    Hey,

    I'm currently working on a story where the protagonist is a black sheep (not literally).

    For this reason I can't go with any of the usual tricks of creating sympathy for him in his entry scene, and for a long time I searched for some kind of compromise so he wouldn't seem too off to the reader...and in all these cases he ended up being middle of the road -- boring. Now I'm thinking that boring is probably the worst thing a character can be. Especially a protagonist. So now I'm toying with the idea of introducing him almost like a villain -- making the first impression that this guy is off his rocker. At least it would make the reader feel something about him.

    My question is, have you read stories that use this approach? Were you repulsed by the main character or felt like putting the book down? Or were you driven to find out what the hell was wrong with him?
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Only reason I continue with a main protagonist I find no sympathy or liking for is because I am reading it for school, college or a book group. However others on the forum would continue. My advice is read Perfume and if he is not so revolting that wet nurses won't feed him, and he doesn't make a priest feel naked as a tiny baby, Your managing something more likeable.
     
  3. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    A little later on you get to understand why he has ended up the way he is, but it seems like if I don't first show him as being bad, that reason has no real impact. The main themes of the story are redemption and forgiveness -- if he was an a-ok guy they would have no meaning.

    But my question still stands to anyone reading this: can you think of stories that did this and where you still sympathized for the MC?
     
  4. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Exactly my first thought. :)

    It's the only unlikable main character I disliked but still kept me reading.

    Usually I either like the unlikable character or I stop reading.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    :) I only read the whole of the first part because it was for a book group lol - I normally wouldn't have read that much. I am aware it seems to have lost a lot betweent the German to English translation.

    However other people must have seen something because the book became so popular and was turned into a film.

    EDIT: Other books where I disliked or found character unlikeable from the get go and are popular are Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D'Urbervilles actually anything by Thomas Hardy pretty much, Catcher in the Rye, Queer by William Burroughs. Only time I continue is when it is a horror.
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    How about Fight Club? What kept you reading or watching the movie, or didn't you? I think the main character has no redeeming trait what so ever, and still I was hypnotized all the way through.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    No I didn't continue but it is popular and people find it compelling - it can be done but personally I am a softy I like nobility and strength in my characters,
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, so perhaps the two of us have a taste difference. I'm a sucker for catharsis.
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is just style, if you can give your character depth. Write the story well people will read it. Another example would be Lord of the Flies they were pretty unlikeable to me. It is not a new idea and has been done well, and been popular in the past.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I never read Irwin Shaw's Rich Man, Poor Man, but I greatly enjoyed the miniseries, which I understand is quite different from the novel.

    In the miniseries, though, Tom Jordache was the black sheep brother (played by Nick Nolte). He was a bad boy, through and through, and you can fully agree with his father kicking him out. In the course of the miniseries, the good brother, Rudy, becomes increasingly corrupt, while Tom runs from one bad situation to another, but ends up being the brother you respect and cheer for.

    It may be a good film for you to research for this question.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm perfectly happy to read a book in which I can't stand the main character, so long as the book is well-written and interesting.
     
  12. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    NOTE: Please be aware that this is completely my personal opinion.

    I'm the kind of person has finished most of the books I've started reading. So if you get someone like me, it's fine if the MC starts off bad. I just want the MC to be good at the end. Otherwise I'll hate the book and tell everyone my exact feelings about it.

    Now I'm sure most books (since they should involve a plot) are not as bad as this, but a while ago I watched "Casino Royale". I hated it.
    Isn't James Bond supposed to be the good guy? I have only watched one other bond movie, and I recall him being the good guy. Not in this one. He just murdered everyone within a hundred metres of him. I think the plot was something about revenge. I'm not sure anymore. Anyways, here he goes killing everybody, and I'm supposed to cheer him on. But I can't because I don't know WHY he is killing everybody! Even if I did know why, it better be a very very very good reason. Revenge doesn't count as very good. Maybe the movie deserves a second chance, but after what I saw, I'm not going to give it one.

    So with your character, if he starts off bad, we can sort of relate to the guy, since we all have made our mistakes. But if he stays bad, then any hope of redemption ends up in the garbage, along with the book, if I was the one reading it.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I liked Casino Royale a lot. Bond, in that movie, is closer to the James Bond of the original books, who is a ruthless guy who is very good at killing people. I thought Daniel Craig nailed it.
     
  14. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    We couldn't have more opposed views on this topic. :)

    I make a strong differentiation between "Bad" and "unlikable". I can like a mass murderer character and despise an angel just as the opposite.

    One of the reasons that can make me dislike a character is him not having reasons for his behaviour, so an evil or violent character that started as a good guy, has become that way because of certain events is much more likely to appeal to me than an arbitrarily good or evil character.
     
  15. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    actually I agree - Bond is my one exception I do read the books, never really watched the films. He is a secret agent not supposed to be 'nice' but to me he isn't evil either.
     
  16. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    Ha ha, I believe that about covers it Horuseye. Everyone has different opinions, and we all have to face the fact that we can't please everyone. Write your story in such a way that it makes a big impression on the people who like a well written bad guy. Don't bother trying to please people who don't.
     
  17. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Eve - with my story I have written a bit of a Marmite (food stuff the advert says people either love or hate) character. It is first person and present tense so you cannot escape him lol - I find the people that love him and get him just read the story and it is fantastic. If you don't get him then the story is ruined:) I am in the firmly love and adore him camp so I love the story even with my doubts about it.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed.

    Ian Fleming's James Bond drinks too much, smokes too much, gambles heavily, and is a crude womanizer. He is cold and calculating, and although he is very good at what he does, he's not very likeable. His lifestyle habits are of great concern to his superiors, and he is only tolerated because of his skills.

    The Casino Royale movie was brilliant in bringing the "real" Bond back into the franchise. He's rough, he's messy, but he's a survivor, and beneath the brutal exterior is someone who truly believes in his country and his duty, and has a vulnerable side anyway.
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    wonder if he was based on Winston Churchill:)
     
  20. wavodavo
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    wavodavo Member

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    HorusEye, I'm patient with an anti-hero to a point...and perhaps I'd slog along for a chapter or two but I'd be weighing all along what the story is about and if I 'care' about this anti-hero. There IS a point I reach where I'll just put it down.

    There is, to me, a need for generating some early sympathy for your character or show his bad self being bad like always, except this time a hesitation or self-questioning of what he is doing...or if you're going for people rooting for your bad character--he has to be not as bad as some of his antagonists...a kind of lesser of two evils approach. Readers will unconsciously root for the underdog if it shows some pluck (at least U.S. audiences will).

    Anyway, since no real person is totally bad, surely a little of a socially redeemable trait should peek through early--just enough to make the reader want to identify in some way with your baddie.
     
  21. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    A little self-awareness goes a long way. If he's self-aware the reader gets too collude in the naughtiness. (That's a rich source of comedy too.)

    I'm thinking Humbert Humbert.
     

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