Friday, May 22, 2009

What I Like About You

Time for another spin on ye olde blog chain, and the question chosen by Michelle is not only good, but also extremely relevant to my current WIP.

In your reading and writing, which do you prefer – a main character that is intriguing, or one that is likeable? Who are the characters that you love the most? And who are the ones that you love to hate?

I think that what this question is really talking about are main characters that one would define as "antiheroes." According to this Wikipedia page listing fictional anti-heroes from books, movies, TV, comic books, and video games, there are several characteristics we can expect:
  • imperfections that separate them from typically "heroic" characters (selfishness, ignorance, bigotry, etc.);
  • lack of positive qualities such as "courage, physical prowess, and fortitude," and "generally feel helpless in a world over which they have no control";
  • qualities normally belonging to villains (amorality, greed, violent tendencies, etc.) that may be tempered with more human, identifiable traits (confusion, self-hatred, etc.);
  • noble motives pursued by bending or breaking the law in the belief that "the ends justify the means."
Personally, I tend to love these types of characters, and often find more suppsedly "likeable" characters (poor Bella from Twilight has taken quite a beating in this chain, and yet I can't help but bring her up once more as a character who is about as interesting as plain oatmeal.) to be completely unbearable.

However, looking at this question from the writing instead of the reading end of the spectrum is quite different. I think that most writers tend to love the characters they create. I have a terrible habit of even loving my villains, and am always wanting them to find some kind of redemption in the end. The way I see it, they're not bad - just misunderstood.

In my current WIP my main character definitely falls on the anti end of the hero spectrum. Again and again she exhibits many of the traits listed by that Wikepedia entry, and yet I always kind of thought that these were the best things about her.

But then the crits came back from some of my beta readers. And I started seeing that "L" word from the question: "likeable." Except it was proceeded by a "UN".

I wasn't totally surprised, I knew my MC had a hard side that might turn some people off, but I had also tried to demonstrate that she also had a - although very well-hidden - softer side.

But then another one of my beta readers (my husband actually, whose critting skills I've mentioned previously) said that he loved the character and not to change a thing (Don't worry he balanced it out with lots of things he didn't like about the other characters and many other things.). I ended up discussing with him that some of my other beta readers felt my MC could be more sympathetic, and he wondered aloud if the character had been written as a man instead of a woman would they have felt the same way? Now what we expect from our male and female characters is probably a question for another blog chain, but it did make me think - especially since most of the popular anti-heroes that I can think of (and most of those on Wikipedia's list) are men.

Anyway, I am now in the tricky position of trying to make my MC a little more sympathetic while not comprimising who she is or watering her down too much. It's a thin line.

Back on the reading side of things I find that what helps me understand any character is when their motivations are clear. This is why when a character does something for no reason, or just to advance the plot (*cough cough* Entire last two seasons of Heroes. Yes, I know that's TV, not reading, but have you seen how bad it was? I think I've actually picked on it in a previous post, because I was so actually angry at what they did to those characters that I had to stop watching.) it can really turn me off.

There are also times when characters will just cross a line that I will not follow them, no matter what their motivations.

Does that answer the question? I think so. Except I can't really think of any examples of any anti-heroes I really enjoy except for House and that's TV.

Somebody help me out. Do you like anti-heroes? Who are some of your favorites (extra points if it's a woman, since they seem to be rare)? And are there any heroes or anti-heroes who you just found too anti to enjoy?

And to follow this entire blog chain you can find Carolyn before me and Mary will be immediately after.


  1. Hey - I love the pic!!! And House - he DOES rock, doesn't he. Great take on this Kate. Man, what on earth am I possibly going to write about??? UGHH! (runs off to rewrite post for the millioneth time)

  2. awesome post! and great point about the man/woman antihero thing. As a society I think we tend to forgive men for more than we do women...they can be bad and still be likeable, whereas a woman is just a you know what.

    I'll have to stew on antiheroes I like. To tired to think now :D I kind of like Neferet from the House of Night series. :D

  3. maybe u shouldn't change ur main character...
    Is the WIP a "romance" or coming of age kind of thing that calls for a "positive-likable" main character?! There are lots of main characters that aren't very likable at all.
    I need to think over some before I let u know of book examples(tho I know there's tons), but the movie examples that shot into my head right away are Mr. Schmidt in 'About Schmidt'- or the photo guy in 'One Hour Photo'.
    ...I guess what I'm saying is that the character can have those hard qualities if she's in the right type of book.

  4. Congratulations! I'm just catching up on blogs and noticed your post from earlier in the week! How exciting to be expecting a baby!! I hope that you are able to make it through the rest of the trimester without too much more discomfort! And the cake turned out great!

  5. House, House, House! It's exciting just to think about him! LOL
    Just partially kidding here.
    Hmmm, LOL about Bella. I def. like antiheroes. Great point about your female being a male. Interesting to think about.
    I wish I could think of some but I tend to (lately) read inspirationals so it's hard to find one, since most of those seem to be more heroic than anti.
    Great question Kate! Now it's going to bug me all morning. LOL

  6. Good post about the gender of the anti-hero! I did read a book with an anti-heroine a couple of years ago, and I didn't like her. Can't remember the title offhand.

  7. There is a lot to think about in this post. I liked what you said about how in your writing, your MC is maybe more on the likable side, but you like her, but some of your betas didn't. It could be that more of what you know of her needs to be in the story. Or it could be that some people do prefer likable MCs.

    As for women anti-heroes, I recently read Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, and I thought the MC, Ginny, was a bit of an anti-hero. She thinks about affairs and murder plots, and she doesn't always make the "right" decisions, but I still thought she was a great character.

  8. Man, now I wish I watched House. Don't worry that he's on TV, I compare everything to TV or movies. To me, it's all the entertainment industry. ;)

    I'd liked your thoughts on male vs. female though. My villain in my WiP is a woman, and it's hard to make her as vicious as I think she needs to be. Gotta work on that...

  9. Christine - Oh good I'm glad you liked the pic, I took me forever to find something to use for this post.

    Michelle - Yes, I agree men are given waayyy more leeway. I've never heard of the House of Night series - I'll have to look into it.

    Pen Pen - Thanks for the vote to keep my character the same. It is actually Urban Fantasy which I think is a genre that can have a slightly tougher heroine, but at the same time I don't want her to totally alienate readers.

    Jody - Thanks on the congrats!

    Jessica - LOL, I was thinking of you when I gave the House example because I know from your blog that you are a fan too (have you seen the finale yet? I LOVED it.)

    Sandra - Oh no - you didn't like the anti-heroine? Hmm... that doesn't bode well for me.

    Annie - Your mention of Jane Smiley makes me wonder if maybe it isn't just gender that makes us accepting of an anti-hero(ine) but also perhaps genre. For example Smiley is more literary fiction, but maybe in genre fiction we want our heroes to be more clearly heroic.

    Elana - They show House reruns on TNT or TNN or one of those cable stations like TNT and TNN. You should totally check it out! And that is interesting that you are struggling to make your female villain as bad as she needs to be - I wonder if it would help to ask yourself what a male character in her place would do?

  10. I tend to go for the anti-hero. Great post:)

  11. I love the anti-hero. House is a great example. If Simon Cowell were fictional, he'd be another.

    Honestly, I don't think there's enough of them in the world.

    Great post!

  12. I hate to say it, but I think you should listen to your beta readers rather than your husband. The reason is that your husband cannot be any more objective about your character than you. Even beta readers, if they are also your friends, may be prone to "likable author leakage": readers who know an author is likable will inadvertantly allow more leniancy to an unlikable hero. If beta readers still speak up about an unlikable heroine, this is a huge warning sign.

    I'm NOT saying you should change who she is. What I suspect is that you haven't communicated to the reader who she is. You say she has a "softer" side, but has this really been shown?

    Also, "softness" and "goodness" are not the only way to make a character likable. Basically, you can keep everyone of her negative habits, if she still has more positive habits which, in the end, outweigh or outnumber them.

    Take House. Yes, he's an ass. He's antiscocial, politically incorrect, and a drug addict. But if you look closely, you'll see the show carefully gives us more reasons to like him than dislike him:

    1. He's brilliant and competent. Expertise is likable.

    2. He's a rebel. Independence is likable.

    3. The people around him constantly point out to him what an ass he's being. This means the viewer/reader doesn't have to, and even sort of gets defensive on his behalf.

    4. He's in constant pain from his leg. Torturing a character makes us feel more sympthetic.

    5. He saves a life every week. Let's face it, if someone saved your life, you wouldn't care if he was a jerk in every other respect. He SAVED YOUR LIFE!

    Dexter is another anti-hero who works despite being a serial killer. The main reason is that he is killing other serial killers. By comparison, he is the better man. If your heroine is surrounded by nice characters, she may come off looking bad by comparison. If
    the other characters spend their days boiling kittens and their nights deep frying puppies, she can be pretty bad and still look like an angel in comparison.

    Of course, I babble, knowing nothing of your wip or heroine, so if what I've said was completely irrelevant, dismiss it.