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Writing, Illustrating & Publishing => Book Talk => Topic started by: CC on November 05, 2008, 03:27 PM

Title: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: CC on November 05, 2008, 03:27 PM
I'm reading a YA (title redacted) book right now; it has been nominated for a Very Important Award.

I adore the MC's voice itself -- zesty, intriguing -- but I don't like the MC. As in, if this MC were a real, live flesh-and-blood person I'd hate him/her. As in, I'd run in the opposite direction, screaming, to get away from this MC.

Yet, I'm drawn to the book itself. And yet I hate it. But I keep reading. Though I'm pretty sure I don't care. Normally if I don't care about a MC after the first 25 pages, I toss it. But I can't toss this. But I hate it. This is annoying to me. I'm not a sentimental reader. I got this from the library. And, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to go buy my own copy now. Except I hate it. Is this what drug addicts feel like?

Do the rest of you have to like a MC to like the book? :stars
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Traci Dee on November 05, 2008, 03:51 PM
I hope not or else I'm screwed.  I like unlikable characters:  Scarlett, Hannibal, Mr. Darcy, Freddie Krueger.  Doesn't mean I want to marry them.  Likable doesn't equal fascinating, and unlikable doesn't equal unreadable--now that's an equation I can get behind.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Jenny Moss on November 05, 2008, 03:51 PM
I wrote about this on my LJ a while ago and because I'm lazy ;) I'll just post what I said then:

I just finished an adult book with a very unsympathetic main character. I didn't like this woman and didn't care much what happened to her. But I kept reading and reading and reading. Because Elizabeth Hand is an amazing writer. The novel is GENERATION LOSS. I'm not sure I'd recommend it: It's dark, icky, unkind things happen, but it's seriously good. (Of course, some of you might like this.)

Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: CC on November 05, 2008, 04:06 PM
I like unlikable characters.

Maybe I wasn't clear: I like unlikable characters all the time. But this character isn't supposed to be unlikable in that lurid Hannibal, Freddy Kruegar way... she's just annoying/unlikable to me.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Just Jodi on November 05, 2008, 04:20 PM
It's like the proverbial characters you "love to hate"... I don't have to necessarily "like" a character to be drawn to them.  And I love reading about characters I am drawn to.  Sometimes "likable" characters are plain boring...
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: SMozer on November 05, 2008, 04:21 PM
I do have a problem liking a book when I don't like the main characters.  An example for me was The House of Sand and Fog.  Overall, I thought the story was well written but I found all the characters so morally absent that the book left a sour taste in my mouth.  I've been having a similar problem with the tv show Mad Men.  I like the show, but every so often I turn to my husband and say, "These people are disgusting." and wonder why I am still watching.  I think I read to the end of a book or watch to the end of a show like that just to see if in the end they change and become better.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Traci Dee on November 05, 2008, 04:31 PM
But this character isn't supposed to be unlikable in that lurid Hannibal, Freddy Kruegar way... she's just annoying/unlikable to me.

Doesn't matter what they're supposed to be.  Jo from Little Women is beyond annoying, Christopher Robin is a dullard and Sherlock Holmes is a complete jerk.  Did it stop me from reading the books?  Nope.  Did it stop me from enjoying the books?  Nope.  Authors can mean for characters to be loved or hated, but they don't get to decide how a reader responds even if that reader's response is seemingly in the minority.  How you feel is how you feel.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Joni on November 05, 2008, 04:34 PM
I have to like the MC and sympathize to *love* a book. If I don't like the MC, I can appreciate the writing and still enjoy the book -- although it's much, much tougher, and it has to be darn good writing -- but I feel at a much greater distance from it, so I can't fall into it and in love with it. I actually had this problem with The Secret Life of Bees; I thought it was interesting and very well written, but the MC gradually lost my sympathy over the course of the book.

Flip side is that I'm much more likely to put a book down if I don't like the MC. (Including MCs that are TDTL.) Because I probably don't care. And if I don't care, I have a ton of better things to do.

And ha ha, Jo was my favorite character in Little Women! But that's probably because I felt she was me. :bat
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Laura D on November 05, 2008, 04:36 PM
I used to think, no, but I really believe that yes, I do have to like them. That doesn't mean they're lovable characters but there has to be something there to make me care about them or I won't go on no matter how good the story is. I've put down many a book, especially lately, where I just didn't care about the MC. Something about 'em annoyed me and more often than not, it's something about them that annoys me rather than they're despicable characters.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Lisa M. on November 05, 2008, 04:45 PM
I need to like them.  A lot.  They can be evil and I'll still like them.  I'm reading a book right now- actually for FIVE months- that I hate.  I HATE both main characters.  It's not a long book.  Less than 200 pages.  Part of me wants to pick it up again because I'm just sure that if HE wrote it, it must be good.  Or at least get good.  But it hasn't. 

I should be sympathetic to BOTH of them but I'm not.  I simply don't care about them. 

Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: lurban on November 06, 2008, 03:29 AM
You're talking about a personal response right? 

Most important to me is interesting characters.  I have read some books with characters who are not likeable, in the want-to-hang-with-you way, but who are very interesting.  Humbert Humbert comes to mind.  Gilly Hopkins is another.

There are books with likeable characters who aren't all that interesting to me.  Those are the books I put down after 50 pages or so.

But my favorite books are the ones with interesting characters who I adore.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Marissa Doyle on November 06, 2008, 05:03 AM
I think there's a difference between characters you like and characters whom you find sympathetic or feel kinship/drawn to in some way but don't necessarily like off the bat...maybe part of the story is that they earn your liking as the story progresses and they (or your perceptions of them) change.

But yes, I've definitely read books that have been very good and would have been to-die-for on my keeper shelf if the MC hadn't been so totally unlikeable/unsympathetic in every way (I'm thinking specifically of a fantasy trilogy from some years back--for adults, not kids.  Everything else about it was terrific except for her.  :feelbad)
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: SproutQ on November 06, 2008, 06:26 AM
I don't have to like the character enough to want to hang out with her, but I do have to feel for her and be able to see her point of view.

The one thing I cannot tolerate, though, is stupidity, like where the MC keeps making the same dumb mistakes through the entire book, or where she's the only one who can't tell the bad guy is lying or where everything happens to her and she has no ideas of her own.  Then it doesn't matter how great the other parts of the book are.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Marcia on November 06, 2008, 06:41 AM
I don't have to like the character enough to want to hang out with her, but I do have to feel for her and be able to see her point of view.

The one thing I cannot tolerate, though, is stupidity, like where the MC keeps making the same dumb mistakes through the entire book, or where she's the only one who can't tell the bad guy is lying or where everything happens to her and she has no ideas of her own.  Then it doesn't matter how great the other parts of the book are.

Exactly. The kind of passive character that you just want to give a good shake to knock some sense into her/him.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Christye on November 06, 2008, 06:57 AM
There's lots of books that I love even though I don't like the MC.  Even if I don't like them, if I can relate to them in some way or if I can see their train of thought and reasoning . . .  then I'm in.  Some examples are "A Wizard of Earthsea."  Protag is very arrogant and brings about the problem of the story, yet I can relate to his folly and his quest to try to make things right.

The Hunger Games:  Protag is very cynical, unsympathetic and has the instincts of a  :grrr killer, yet she's given some redeemable qualities and I'm able to understand why she has turned out to be as sour as she is.   :rain

Christy
http://ChristysCreativeSpace.blogspot.com
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: afraclose on November 06, 2008, 08:13 AM
A character has to have some kind of redeeming quality for me to like them. It doesn't matter what it is. It could be their determination, or their intelligence, or some small detail that reminds me of someone I know.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Stephanie J. Blake on November 06, 2008, 09:16 AM
I think I must be interested in them on some level. I guess I don't have to *like* them, but I must have to feel like I want to keep reading.
A good example lately, Living Dead Girl. The girl frustrated me, and yet I had to find out what happened to her.
Another good example. Twilight. Couldn't get into it. Didn't care what happened to her.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Myrrhine on November 06, 2008, 10:24 AM
I do. I don't have to want to spend all my time with the MC, but I think I have to like him or her on some level, or I won't like the book. Even if I feel compelled to finish it or recognize that it has merit.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: C.K. on November 06, 2008, 12:52 PM
I definitely do - not just with novels but movies and plays too. The main character(s) could do a lot of things I don't like but on some level I have to be fond of him/her otherwise I just don't care what happens.

Have to admit I don't get the Sherlock Holmes thing at all - my husband loves him but the character seems so unemotional that I can't feel any connection to him.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: kadje70 on November 06, 2008, 01:58 PM
I have to like at least one aspect of the character. For example, I didn't like Scarlett O'Hara's selfishness or her opportunistic choices but I couldn't help but root for her because she never ever gave up. On the other hand, when my husband took me to see Cape Fear some years back - I HATED it! (sorry if some of you are fans) I didn't like any of the characters and could have cared less if they all died! It is still ranked (for me) as the worst movie I've ever seen.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Amaris Glass on November 06, 2008, 02:08 PM
I have to at least not hate the MC.

I read most of White Oleander, but ended up skipping a bunch because I hated that girl. She was a skeazy jerk and I didn't want to be around her. And I'm not even saying it's not a good book–I know it's hugely successful and all lauded and whatnot–but I just don't care what happens to her, or what was done to her.

Also Ferris Beuller. Um, he's a jerk. Am I the only one who thinks this?
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: busterchops on November 06, 2008, 02:39 PM
I need to at least like the main character.  If I don't, then I'm left with a bad feeling about the book.  In fact, I would probably stop reading it, unless I had to read it for some reason.   

LOL Stirling.  Ferris really is a jerk!






Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: ccw on November 06, 2008, 06:55 PM
Sometimes if everything else in a novel is working, maybe even stellar, I can deal with a MC that I'm not  smitten with. In fact, there have been times when I have been so impressed by the writing that I just can't put the book down.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Debby G on November 06, 2008, 10:23 PM
I like to read about interesting characters. In Inexcusable, the protagonist is a rapist, but he sure is compelling. And the girl he raped, though not the main character, is so sympathetic that I turned the pages to see if she'd be all right and if the protagonist would get his comeuppance. I love that book.

I've been reading a lot of first person YAs lately where the female main character is perky and funny and kind of neurotic. The problem is they all seem perky and funny and uncertain in the exact same ways. I'm tired of that perky YA female!

The adult novel The Corrections won a bunch of awards and I thought the writing was really clever. But I didn't really like the book because the main characters were all so nasty and self-centered and weak-willed. I wasn't rooting for anyone.

There's a popular, award-winning YA author whose books I don't like that much because the main characters seem so pleased with their own cleverness.

Some books with main characters that really intrigued me are Speak, Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junie B. Jones, and Notes from a Liar and Her Dog.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Barbara Eveleth on November 07, 2008, 04:27 AM
Now we know why editors and agents are just like us.  :embarrassed2


I HAVE to like the character. I also have to like the writing and the story. I have to like everything.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Sarah Miller on November 07, 2008, 07:00 AM
For me, the MC has to be interesting, or somehow compelling, but not necessarily likable. Annoying, however, is a different matter entirely.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Dragonfly97 on November 07, 2008, 08:01 AM
If the writing's good, I'll hang in there, but I won't *love* the book.  The latest example of that for me is Girls for Breakfast.  I enjoyed reading it, but the character reminded too much of how rotten boys can be in their teens (which is not to say they can't be wonderful, too).  Written well, characters like that can stick with me as much as the ones I like.

Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: CC on November 07, 2008, 03:30 PM
The adult novel The Corrections won a bunch of awards and I thought the writing was really clever. But I didn't really like the book because the main characters were all so nasty and self-centered and weak-willed. I wasn't rooting for anyone.

Ha! I just finished reading The Corrections last week! And I thought the exact same thing. Dystfunction is fine, but for me there was no hope for any of those characters.


The difference for me for this annyoing MC book I'm reading now, though, is I do like the voice, and so maybe that's why I feel compelled to keep reading even though I'm silently cursing the MC on every page.

Truthfully, there are only maybe 5 books that I've read (as an adult) that I love without reservation. I have many others that I really, really like but because I'm used to tearing my own work apart, I think I unconsciously transfer all those nasty editing thoughts onto books instead of just enjoying them. I should stop that!
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: diana peterfreund on November 11, 2008, 05:44 AM
I think it depends on what we're supposed to be getting out of the book. there are some books where I can't get behind the story unless I like the protagonist. I won't care, say, if she gets to go to the prom with her dream date. And then there are some larger than life kind of stories where I don't need to like the person to be fascinated with their journey. Gone with the Wind, or Schindler's List.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: olmue on November 14, 2008, 06:49 AM
Well, I can finish a book whose main character I don't like if the voice and tension are compelling enough. But I probably won't ever reread the book, and it probably won't make my talk-it-up-to-my-friends list. I just read a book (that many people like) where I just couldn't sympathize with the MC OR the romantic interest. Individually I didn't like them, and together I thought they were a pretty unhealthy combination, like if one of them was my roommate I'd be seriously worried. I thought the book was interesting, but I didn't like it.
Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: Jill C. on November 14, 2008, 10:52 AM
Agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds blogged about this subject:

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2008/11/unlikable-characters.html



Title: Re: Do you have to like the MC in order to like the book?
Post by: ello on November 14, 2008, 11:16 AM
Ha funny is this thread! I just got a reject from an editor who told me she found my MC unlikeable. And I was like SO?!  :dr Just kidding. No I completey understand. It is hard to get behind a story if you don't love the characters. They have to appeal to you in some way, otherwise, why continue reading when there are 1000s of other books out there to read? but what one person may find unlikeable may not be so to another. Sometimes it all comes down to personal taste. Scarlet O'Hara can be unlikeable, but I loved her.