Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Unlikable Characters

Have you ever read a book where you disliked the main character? That's how I felt when I began reading BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver. Samantha Kingston was a horrible person, and I didn't care if she lived or died.

Lauren Oliver wrote an amazing story with an unforgettable character arc. By the end of the book, I did care whether or not Samantha survived. As she lived her own Groundhog Day experience, I found myself wishing for a happy ending for Samantha. This was an excellent book, and if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it.

In Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell states, "What makes a plot truly memorable is not all of the action, but what the action does to the character. We respond to the character who changes, who endures the crucible of the story only to emerge a different person at the end."

Love 'em or hate 'em, when we're passionate about a character it means the writer did a great job of developing a pretend person that feels real and stirs up strong emotions.

Do you remember a character you didn't like, but who won your heart by the final chapter?

photo credits: Barnes & Noble

36 comments:

  1. I absolutely loved Before I Fall. It had one of the most real characters I've read about in a long time; I think that's why she was so interesting, even if she wasn't necessarily likable.

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  2. I LOVED Before I Fall. It was one of the more memorable YA books I've ever read. Now, the book Some Girls Are features a similar "mean girl" who does win you over to some degree by the end, but in very different ways. I didn't feel quite as connected to her as Samantha but I understood what she was doing and ultimately rooted for her, whether or not I wanted to!

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  3. I know some people put down this book, but I loved it too. It didn't bother me she was snobby because I knew change was coming. The author handled it well.

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  4. Ultimate character to hate, Amber in Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. She's cruel, manipulative, vain, shallow, and selfish. Yet you desperately want everything to work out for her in the end!

    I love books like that and will definitely be looking for Before I Fall.

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  5. Sounds like a book I should pick up and read.

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  6. Scarlett O'Hara! Love her character, but wow, she's the most selfish, manipulative character ever. But I still wanted things to work out for her because she was determined, brave, kept her promises, and took care of her family (despite not being so compassionate about it, haha). Too bad it took until the end of the novel for her to realize her major flaws!

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  7. Think it's easy making a likable character who's realistic and flawed? No it is HARD!! The good writers make it look easy. The ability to do this is a beautiful talent.

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  8. I'm going to have to check this out! And I'm with Laura, Scarlett O'Hara drove me nuts! But I loved that book, and it couldn't have been what it was without her hard-to-love character.

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  9. Look forward to reading this one. And hmmm . . . all I can think of is the main character from Diary of a Wimpy Kid who I STILL don't like after reading all the books. I'm sure I'm a minority, but the kid has no redeeming qualities!

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  10. I keep hearing that about this book, and I'm intrigued... must check it out! :o) Thanks, Julie!

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  11. Hi,

    I hated Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre and never understood why Jane didn't tell him where to get off when he finally settled for her: like she was second best. And yes, I know she wasn't. Jane was much nicer than the other scheming cow who was after his money, but none of that lessened my hatred of him. I read it first when I was twelve and read it again years later in my late teens and still he didn't endear himself to me.

    Scarlet O'Hara, well yeah, she was your average spoilt rich bitch teenager, and in truth not a lot different than self-obsessed teen girls of today = who think everything and everyone revolves around them glorying in their captive charms and utter beauty of youth. I guess in all honesty we can all relate to a little of Scarlet in us at one time or another, and even now the most widely remembered literary female character.

    I'm going now, or I will start on Wuthering Heights and Lorna Doone. I never understood why Lorna didn't marry Carver Doone, he was infinitely more handsome and jealously possessive to boot than the yokel she did marry: her death the result.

    best
    F

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  12. Janet, I am SO with you on the Wimpy Kid books! There are definitely some funny moments in them, but I continue to dislike the character and how mean and unrepentant he is!

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  13. Right now, I'm reading a memoir where I don't really like the author. That's gotta be bad! I'm hoping that by the end of the book, she'll have changed into someone a little stronger, a little less whiny and weird.

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  14. Yes! Amy Knupp's Playing with Fire featured heartbroken and real pain in the arse Derek, but by the end, I was a little in love with him myself... how did she DO that? http://www.amyknupp.com/pwf.php

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  15. LOVED Before I Fall! And I'm with you ... I thought the MC was soooo awful at first. I was like, can I read this huge book about this horrible character? But I was won over by her story and I found myself crying at the end. Beautiful story.

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  16. The first one that sprang to mind was Darcy in Something Blue, by Emily Giffin. She was so horribly self-centered at the beginning as to be almost cliche, but by the end she (and we) had caught up and found common ground.

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  17. I can't think of a book off the top of my head, but this post reminded me of some comments people have made about my book, Cursed with Power.
    Since the main character is also the villain in the story, readers have told me at first they wonder why they should care at all about Celestria. Then as they continue to read on they tell me that they find reasons for liking her, and though it seems ironic they actually do hope for a happy ending for her/

    Happy writing,
    Lindsey

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  18. How about the opposite question? Have you ever cared about a villain? I think there should be positives and negatives about all of our characters. That's the way real people are, right? :D

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  19. I'm always looking for a good read and will keep this one in mind. I like the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum series, but for some reason, have developed a real dislike for Stephanie.

    Jane

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  20. Yeah, Samantha and her friends were pretty shallow and I disliked on the first page. But she was real and I was intrigued on how she would change.

    By the time we were on Day 4 or so, she had won me over.

    Really liked this book!

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  21. oooh, now I want to read this even more! When I read the Twilight series, I hated Bella...and I still do.

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  22. I don't want to say the book, but I recently couldn't read past about 30 or 40 pages of a recent popular book. The characters were so unlikeable I couldn't continue.

    I do like the sound of this one though - I'll have to give it a shot.

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  23. Definitely. In Libba Bray's GOING BOVINE, the mc is not the most likeable person. But man, the writing is brilliant - and he was so darn authentic. By the end of the story he underwent such a fab transformation - a truly great book!

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  24. I remember the first time it happened with me- Emma. I absolutely disliked her, but couldn't help cheering for her.

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  25. on my TBR list! I couldn't think of a character (I always blank out the minute the question is asked), but I'd have to agree about Scarlet O'Hara. There are others, I'm sure. Just not coming to me at 6 a.m.

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  26. I read a book Julie, where the MC was an extremely dislikeable person but the book won a Booker prize.

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  27. Unfortunately, no. I disliked the main charactr in Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant from start to finish. Just can't get into an anti-hero.

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  28. I felt this way about the MC in Cracked Up to Be. At first she was such a you-know-what, but as they story wore on, you understood how she got there and you wanted to scrape away all the stuff that happened and have her get back to the real her.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  29. I think a story works when you're unsure of the main character. That character should begin changing the moment you start the first page. Stories work best when characters undergo evolution.

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  30. Interesting post, I'm struggling with my present book, have made the character nasty to begin with .. sigh.. but have I overdone it.. ??

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  31. At first, I didn't like the main character in Rebecca but at the end, I thought she was amazing and it became one of my favorite books.

    CD

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  32. It's fun to learn what characters some of you didn't like. How could I forget about Scarlett?

    Some of these books I haven't read yet, and they sound interesting. Thanks for stopping by!

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  33. SO true! A book that can make you have sympathy for an unlikeable character cannot be easy to write! I think it takes serious skill. Great review, Julie!

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  34. Great quote! I loved the character in Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series because he's unreliable and you are not sure about him until the very end.

    Thanks for sharing, Julie. I have to read this one still!

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  35. ah, Juls, not only that I read books with horrible characters but I also translated some of that rubbish :)
    For example CROSSED BONES by Jane Johnson, in which the lead female character falls in love with an unscrupulous sheik who not only kidnapped all of her village and sold them to slavery, but who also killed and tortured some of them. Yet she was perfectly happy to fall in love with him and to reject a boy who came all the way from Britain to Morocco to save her and went through living hell to do that. I didn't know whether I wanna strangle the female character or the writer :))

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