1. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Jeff Vandermeer has words concerning "likable" characters.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Wreybies, Apr 6, 2015.

    From The Rumpus. By Monica Byrne, December 5, 2014

    ....

    Rumpus: Changing gears here: as soon as I started reading about the biologist (and the psychologist, and the surveyor, and Grace, ) I knew the Likeability Police would be out in force. They are for me too, and it’s a criticism I find baffling. What’s your reaction to readers calling your characters unlikeable? Do you think there’s any merit to the conventional wisdom that readers “need someone to root for”? Is that code for something else?

    VanderMeer: I want to write interesting characters who are flawed and sometimes inconsistent because people are flawed and sometimes inconsistent. You run into real problems creating realistic characters if you want to pander to the idea of “likeability” because it tends to flatten out the things that make us human. We all like to think we’re good people and that good people have certain attributes, and in our mind we iron out all of our bastardly acts and our own bizarre rituals and the times we failed to measure up, to support a mythology of our own goodness. And thus sometimes we want fiction that supports or affirms a fiction we’re creating in the real world. But I’m resistant to giving readers that because I think it’s a lie. (Full disclosure: Sometimes I’m a bastard. Sometimes I’m not. I don’t think I’m alone in this.)

    As for the Southern Reach—I’m writing about some characters who have become damaged or have suffered damage, and are trying to recover themselves the best way they know. Others, like Control, are being continually and repeatedly damaged without being aware of it. Which happens sometimes in the world. Then, it’s true, there are good, honest, decent people who get caught up in the wrong things at the wrong time. There’s no getting around that. There’s no moral or ethical compass anywhere that’s keeping certain people from death and throwing bastards into the gristmill of non-eternity.

    Others, like Grace Stephenson, are simply not likeable to another character, which shouldn’t make them unlikeable to the readers. I love Grace—I love so many things about her, and she has her fans. But I do get some feedback where because of her obstruction of Control readers think they’re meant to see her as a villain. I even get some readers—almost always male—who wish Grace was more out of the picture in
    Acceptance so that what they see as the inevitable romance between Control and Ghost Bird can blossom. Which is something that ain’t blossoming and never was, because any attraction only exists on one side.

    The biologist, I get some people saying she’s somehow messed up because she’s distant—they identify her difference as a defect. Something I reject entirely. These are often readers who like the books but they do so in the context of assuming the authorial intent was to create a messed-up person who for whatever reason could’ve been normal if not for something unfortunate in her environment impacting on her, etc., etc.

    But this is in the context of the vast majority of feedback I’ve gotten being very positive in this respect and me being grateful that readers have engaged with the nuances of the characters to the point of not reducing things to trying to tag some characters as “bad” and some as “good.” Or likeable/not-likeable. Although, they can do that to Lowry all they want; he’s an amalgam of every psycho-boss I’ve ever had. Although I’m sure some see him as caricature, people like him exist.
    ....

    http://therumpus.net/2014/12/the-rumpus-interview-with-jeff-vandermeer/

    The characters and dynamics noted in the interview are from Vandermeer's Southern Reach series.

    [​IMG]
    ______________________________________________________
    Jeff Vandermeer's awards include:
     
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  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Never read him. I kinda assumed many MCs were likeable because they are bland reader surrogates, but I quite like his explanation.
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never worry about readers liking my characters. Sometimes I go out of my way (or so it seems) to make those who wander into likeability do really nasty things. But characters should make you want to see what happens to them next, like them or not.
     
  4. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like what he had to say. Likable characters aren't necessary, but believable characters are. Sometimes I think authors can go too far in trying to create anti-hero protagonists who turn me off as a reader not because they aren't likable, but because they don't even attempt to justify their actions on their own terms. This fits in with what he had to say just as much as people who think protagonists have to be likable.
     
  5. ZYX
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    ZYX Member

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    I think realism and flaws are what makes people like characters ? I think part of the whole Don't Make a Mary Sue thing is a result of readers not really liking likable characters ... if that makes any sense.
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Likeability Police... :D

    This reminded me... In the WIP @T.Trian and I are working on (hopefully this'll be the last edit!), one of the main characters suffers of IBS. You're not gonna believe the amount of IBS-shaming this guy faced, courtesy of the Likeability Police. :D On another forum, I offhandedly asked what would readers think if the main character had that problem. It's not going to be mentioned often, even, but his medicinal coal consumption has earned him a nickname, yet the reactions weren't positive at all. One member even went as far as to say she'd never beta-read a manuscript with an MC who has an irritable bowel -- even though the story is obviously about so many other things. Oh well.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    A character doesn't have to be likable for me to read a work. They just have to be interesting in some fashion. But I've seen a lot of comments by readers, and also by writers in writing forums, that they won't read books if the main character isn't likable, so I'm not surprised Vandermeer has received criticism from some on that subject.
     

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