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  1. thelittlethings

    thelittlethings New Member

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    Controversial Narrator

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by thelittlethings, Jan 7, 2018.

    Hello everyone :)

    At the moment, I'm writing a first person story where the narrator is a serial killer. I've spent a lot of time trying to make sure I keep him in character but that's led me to another worry where I'm scared that, when I attempt to publish, I'll be shut down because the narrator (+ their views) is very unlikeable - narcissistic, not racist/homophobic but considers everyone else beneath him, makes a lot of comments about other people that are ...harsh.

    My question is: what are your opinions on a controversial narrator? Would you read a narrator like this even if he has a lot of views that it's unlikely you'll agree with? Could it possibly even be risky to write a book like this? I'm a relatively young author so I'm scared publishers will think I'm just projecting my thoughts which I'm definitely not.

    Thank you for reading, have a good day!
     
  2. Francis de Aguilar

    Francis de Aguilar Contributor Contributor

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    I don't people assuming those are your views is going to be the problem. I think it will just be that no one will be able to empathise with the character and want to read it. I could see something where you alternate between that voice and then a third person or omniscient sections concerning those who want to catch or stop him. Deaver does that, but not an easy thing to do well.
     
  3. thelittlethings

    thelittlethings New Member

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    Okay, thank you! Do you think if I applied more of the narrator's vulnerable "human" side, it would help create an empathy between reader and character?
     
  4. Francis de Aguilar

    Francis de Aguilar Contributor Contributor

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    I guess you could try. Tough job to write a serial killer that is going to get the empathy of an audience. You may get people to stick with it for a while, maybe a short story.
     
  5. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    If the narrator's thoughts are at least compelling in some way, you might be good. If he's just going around remarking on how below him everyone is constantly, it's tiresome. He doesn't, I think, necessarily have to be likable - if he's interesting, offers a perspective that's fun to read about, you can hook readers into seeing where this is gonna go. I reckon that's the better route than trying to build real empathy.

    My method with characters like that is to make'em a fun ride. You don't have to like them and you don't have to be sad when they die or bad things happen to them, but being in their head for a while is an experience in itself. I think you can pull it off with a really strong narrative voice.
     
    Fernando.C likes this.
  6. KevinMcCormack

    KevinMcCormack Senior Member

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    There's sort of two questions here...

    1. is there a problem with writing this type of format - no, you can write anything you want, go for it

    2. will it find a publisher - it'll be tougher than if you had a likable narrator, but there's an audience for everything


    Worth mentioning: Agatha Christie's big break was her murder mystery where the unreliable narrator was the actual murderer. However, he wasn't a generally objectionable character, just deluded, and it wasn't revealed until the end, so the comparison may not be perfect.

    Anything riskier like this might find a more literary audience if there's a thematic intention. I'm thinking of Camus' Outsider, where the POV character was pretty objectionable, but this was intentional, to shed light on existentialist thought.
     
  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think it all depends on how you are writing this story and this character. Remember, you decided to make him all those bad things. What was the reason behind that? How does this add to the story? Does this guy get what's coming to him? I wouldn't save that until the end? Is there character growth and change. On top of that, I don't know how much of a market there is to read work with a racist and everything else narrator. I sure wouldn't want to waste my time listening to anything he had to say. Some writers can pull anything off, but why did you want to make your narrator this way? I think you could run into hurdles at the publishing level.
     
  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Protagonists don't need to be sympathetic, they need to be interesting. They have to want something, and we have to be interested in watching them try to get it.

    What does your serial killer want to do?
     
  9. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    I think it's a cool spin, however, I'm not sure how successful that'd be. It'll be a difficult read if the reader can't empathize with the narrator, and the way I see it, it might gradually become boring. Just my opinion, but it'd be fantastic if you could prove me wrong - I'd love to see something like that!
     
  10. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    I'll just add - I see a fair few people saying that this would work assuming you can have the reader be interested in the narrator and the goals he/she want to achieve. I must say, I do agree with this too.
     
  11. Odile_Blud

    Odile_Blud Active Member

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    For me, a character doesn't have to be "likeable" just interesting. There have been many characters that have done horrible things or have horrible beliefs, but what makes me want to read about these characters is their psychology and why the came to the views that they have. Make them interesting. Ask yourself, what is it about this character that people may want to read about? You say he's a narcissist. Is there an underlying reason for it? How does it effect his day to day life and other people?

    Unlikeable characters usually don't work not because they are unlikeable but rather they are bland. I'll give an example, there was a story I read about a vampire girl who was incredibly unlikeable. She was selfish, arrogant, mean, and to top it all off, the author painted her like she was the victim in every instance even when she was the one that was in the wrong. The problem with the story was not so much that the character was selfish, arrogant, and mean, but rather that there was no reason for it. It wasn't because she had some goal to reach that required her to be that way. It wasn't a result of a terrible upbringing or a mental illness. It wasn't part of her arc in which she realizes the "error of her ways", and her flaws were not acknowledged. Not by the characters in the story, not even by the author.

    So my best advice:

    1) Know who you're writing and why you are writing them that way. What are you trying to get across with a character like that? What does this type of character offer to the story? Why should I be interested in him?

    2) Know what you're writing. Characters like this are far more easier to get away with in a character driven story where the main conflict is internal. In a story where the main conflict is external and the story wants you to root for the main character, it's going to be hard. In such a story, if the character is unlikeable, people my find themselves rooting for the antagonist instead, and if that is what you want, great, but know what your goal is for the story.

    3) Make sure your character has dimension (and I'm sure you already know this). Don't make his only defining trait being "controversial" or narcissistic, racists, and me. Make sure there is more about the character that allows reader to empathize with him on some level. He can still have his views, but even people I think are terrible I find that there is something I can relate too. Often, people I disagree with, disagree on an issue but agree on a problem, and in that sense, though we may bump heads trying to find a solution we can empathize with each other on something we both find to be an issue, and that is just one example of what I mean. Empathy doesn't have to mean that you agree on everything, but that you recognize that that person is human to some extent. Even a "good" character is incredibly unlikeable whenever they are too perfect, because no one can empathize with perfection either, and characters rather too bad or too good wind up be less of "characters" and more of "caricatures". There needs to be some sort of human side to some extent.

    I'm not saying all unlikeable character needs to see "the error of their ways" and I'm not saying that that it needs to be the result of some sort of bad upbringing either. I'm just saying there needs to be a reason for it, know what you're writing, and create this character the same way you would create any other.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2018

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