LUCY BURDETTE: I have this question very much on my mind since I just finished GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. I may be the last person in the world to read this book, and here's the reason: I avoided it because I'd heard the rumor that while the story was compelling, the characters were unappealing.
But one day last week, my neighbor offered me a copy and I couldn't resist a peek to see what all the bestseller fuss was about. And wow, it gripped me and would not let go--all 413 pages. But if I ever got within 50 yards of those characters come to life, I'd run like my life depended on it.
Lisa Scottoline has written that writers should choose a likable character, so that readers can identify with and care about him or her. This makes it more likely that they will be happy to spend 300 or so pages reading along.
So what do you think Jungle Red writers and readers? Is likability important in the characters you write or read?
HALLIE EPHRON: I found Gone Girl so compelling but very unsettling at the end. It's what makes it a terrific book club book -- so much to talk about. I don't think a series could have Nick or Amy Dunne as its protagonist. Having said that, I'd love to read a sequel set 20 years later with their child as the protagonist. And what fresh hell, I wonder, has gone on in the meantime?
RHYS BOWEN: I couldn't live with a character I didn't like for six months. I find I'm so involved with my protagonist that if Molly Murphy is having a fight with her husband, I'm snipping at mine for no reason. So God knows I'd be with an unlikeable heroine inside my head. I read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc and didn't like any of those characters but was compelled to go on reading. Usually I put down a book when I can't find a character I'd like to follow.
LUCY: LOL Rhys--the things we put our husbands through!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You all are going to sneer--and I know it's not fashionable to say so--but I think it's all about the plot. The story. If there's a character I don't like, but in a story that's fabulous, fine with me. Do we "like" Scarlett O'Hara? Do we "like" Carrie? Or Undine in Custom of the Country? (Or Nelson DeMIlle's John Corey?)
And Amy's voice in Gone Girl permeated my brain so much I got snarky for awhile--that's writing for you!
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Funny, I just reread that Lisa Scottoline quote too and I don't agree. I think they can either be likeable or compelling. It's boring when everyone is likeable.
Perhaps she was talking about a series protagonist ala Kinsey Milhone - someone you could conceivably be living with for decades! Although most series don't last that long these days.
Re Gone Girl - I didn't mind that they were unlikeable. Ever read The Maltese Falcon? They were all pretty unlikeable. The characters in House of Cards are all pretty reprehensible - but I'm aching for the next season.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have a hard time staying with a book if I don't like anyone in it. I certainly can't imagine writing a series with an unlikeable protagonist. I don't think I'd be very nice to live with in the process... That said, I find I LOVE writing bad characters in my books--the ones who say and do things that I would never say or do. It's very liberating.
And Lucy, you weren't the last person in the world not to have read Gone, Girl, because I haven't read it either.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: As a writer, I'll agree with everyone who's said it would be hard, if not impossible, to write a series protagonist who was unlikeable. However, I positively enjoy writing minor characters who are horrid. I think it's an outlet for saying or doing all the things I'll never say or do!
I agree, however, that the most important trait for a character is to be compelling. If your lead is a character that the reader absolutely can't take his or her eyes off of... well, that's a memorable character. See, e.g., Hannibal the Cannibal, Richard III, or, as Ro says, Francis Underwood in HOUSE OF CARDS. All of them prove it's entirely possible to root for the bad guy.
LUCY: Red readers, let us know what you think. And, this is very big book week. We are celebrating Red Rhys's book launch for Heirs and Graces tomorrow. Then our pal Leslie Budewitz on Wednesday. We are giving away books and arcs all week to lucky and loyal commenters.
Let's start right now--giving away an ARC of the desperately awaited Julia Spencer-Fleming book, THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS....