1. Marietta
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    Marietta New Member

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    Is it a mistake to make your main character appear unlikeable in early chapters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Marietta, Dec 10, 2013.

    Hi all
    I am struggling to write the introduction to my protagonist. She develops in the story and becomes very likeable, but how can I show the difference in her without making potential readers dislike her from the off, and lose interest? I heard it was important that readers like your character.

    Thanks for any thoughts on this
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you need to differentiate between "likeable" and "interesting". There are characters I've written who weren't likeable at first, but they were interesting - readers told me they didn't care for them (at first), but they wanted to know what was going on with them. Over time, these characters either developed into the "good guys" or the "bad guys" - but readers still wanted to keep track of them. If it were me, it's that "interesting" that I would concentrate on.
     
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  3. Marietta
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    Marietta New Member

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    thank you for that, Shadowwalker - I will have another look at her
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yep, I think @shadowwalker is right. You just have to hold the reader's interest. Look at Ian Graham's book Monument. Not only is the main character unlikeable at the start, he never becomes likeable.
     
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  5. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    Making your character likeable is very subjective. Yes you do want your character to connect with your reader and to be interesting. However, there are books where I have loved the character and disliked the character. Meanwhile there are others who have opposing opinions. I have hated characters for reasons of I did not like the personality, the witty style of speech or even their choices in the novel. That does not mean I will not read the book, it means the character must serve a purpose to have this type of personality.
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This. So many kinds of this. When people use the word 'likable', it means nothing to me. One of my favorite films, The Libertine, portrays the life of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, an unquestionably contemptible fellow, but interesting in the extreme. ;) The film even goes so far as to open with him speaking to the audience and saying: Allow me to be frank at the commencement. You will not like me. The gentlemen will be envious and the ladies will be repelled. You will not like me now, and you will like me a good deal less as we go on.
     
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  7. Marietta
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    Marietta New Member

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    It is great to have all these responses - my concern about 'likeability' suddenly came to me today when I remembered a quote from a 'how to' book (one of the many I have been trying to learn from). I wasn't sure about it at all, but am so concerned not to make those common mistakes beginners make that I wondered whether it was a rule of sorts. However, the point about The Libertine is particularly apt. Just reading that makes me want to see it, and he clearly isn't 'likeable'
    Thanks everyone
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Your honor, I submit this as Exhibit A in evidence against the overreliance on "how to" books by beginning writers.

    Such books have their place, but a writer (beginning or otherwise) is much better off relying on their experience with fiction they have read, if only because it has a track record of its own and because it hasn't been served up as law.

    'Tis the season, so I will point out there is probably no more detestable personage at the beginning of a story than old Ebeneezer Scrooge. Dickens goes out of his way to tell us, up front, just how rotten he is. Then he gives us some horrific examples ("Are there no prisons? And the workhouses, are they still in operation? I'm relieved. For a moment I was afraid that something had stopped them in their useful purpose!"). But the rest of the story is confronting poor old Scrooge's past and joyously celebrating his ultimate redemption.
     
  9. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    "Interesting" is subjective. One person may find a character who reflects before acting to be interesting. Another person would find that boring and only want to read about characters who jump in without thinking.
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    As are most of the means by which we judge quality writing.
     
  11. BrandonrockstheAM
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    BrandonrockstheAM Active Member

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    A good example of a character that is unlikeable is Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. However, he is immensely interesting. Now, this is an anime, but also Light Yagami from Death Note. However, a lot of people do like him, so this may not be the best example for you, however good of one it is for myself.
     
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  12. RaeRae
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    RaeRae Member

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    Light Yagami was not likeable to me in the least. I wanted him slaughtered early on and wished for it throughout the story. "L" on the other hand was a bit detestable but in the nerdy outcast sort of way. See your point on the likability factor though. When in doubt, take the Mary Sue test for your character and see where they land.
     
  13. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    I think that it just depends on where you fell on the scale with Death Note. To me, Light had a noble goal and I was interested to see where it would go and how far he would take things. I didn't necessary like him, but I didn't hate him either.
    However, L was simply socially awkward and that made it difficult to like him, even though he was technically the 'good' guy.

    I think that Death Note is a great example that you don't need 'likable' characters to be successful, and that your likable characters don't have to be the good guys either. :p
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
     
  15. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my story I have some utterly unlikable characters, some are pure evil, disgusting, despicable creatures but I hope at least people like that kind of thing - even if they want them dead - and keep reading even if they hope some extraordinary demise occurs. I may have mentioned here before that one of my guys is a necrophiliac necromancer who pulls arms off babies - how twisted would you have to be to like him? Whatever the merits about the characters being interesting, mine are definitely not boring.
     
  16. lex
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    lex Contributing Member

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    Tom Ripley (from Patricia Highsmith's five books about him). He's interesting, for sure. Many readers would hardly find him "likeable".
     
  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Harry Morgan, from Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, is not likable, but you find yourself feeling for him anyway.
     
  18. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    L not likable? Which Death Note did you watch? :/

    I wanted L to win because, although Light's goals were just, his means were not. And, throughout the story, his goal degenerated into a quest for power which made him try to eliminate anyone who was in his path.
     
  19. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best example I can think of is Michael Henchard from The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. The story opens with the man doing something so unfathomably awful, but as the story goes on you find yourself feeling bad for him when life screws him over. Then you have to stop and say, "Wait, wait, no, he DESERVES this, remember? That scene from the beginning? Where he did THAT?" and then you go right on forgetting all about it and feeling bad for him again.

    Or maybe it was just me.

    But anyway, in the first few chapters I need something to cling to, some way to attach to the character. I don't particularly care why I attach or how, just that I do. Me liking the character is ideal, but not necessary by any means. I just need to want to read on and care what happens. As long as you can do that, you've got me on board.
     
  20. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    Did I say L was not likable? Nope, I said "difficult to like". That's just how I responded to their personalities. I found L to be extremely annoying. Like I said, it just depends on where you fell on the scale with Death Note.
     
  21. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Oh I just meant he was a huge following. Light does, too.

    Maybe you don't like quirky characters as much as I do. :)
     

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