Monday, August 5, 2013

Must We Like the Characters?

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....

65 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

I find that I much prefer to read books where there is at least one character that I like, or that I can relate to in some way . . . yet I also enjoy books that include a “love to hate” character. But unlikeable characters are not reason enough for me to abandon a book before I’ve finished it and a truly compelling plot can keep me reading even when the characters are not likeable. However the books that draw me back to read them again and again do not tend to be the ones with the unlikeable characters.

Ramona said...

I'm going to go with the folks who say a character does not have to be likable as long as they are compelling. Nick and Amy certainly were that. As to Hallie's comment about their child 20 years from now...The Boys From Brazil comes to mind. Or the girl from The Bad Seed movie. Please don't let that kid live in my neighborhood.

I won't name this book, but I read a novel about a person who goes through a sad and tragic experience. Before the bad stuff began, we got to know her a little, and she was unpleasant. She wasn't a serial killer, but somewhat judgmental and harsh. I would not be her friend. I had sympathy for her when her life began to go sour, but I never could figure out why she had to be such a drag. Bad things happen to unpleasant people? It bothered me and made me like the story a lot less, even though I was sympathetic to her plight. So if a character is nasty, it should be for a good reason? I read the story for the subject matter. If I didn't have that interest, I probably would have put it down when I got tired of her being tiresome.

I've been thinking about this, peripherally. Thanks for this post. It's making me think concretely now.

Jack said...

GONE GIRL is a very special book, IMHO. I think most writers (especially me) should stick with likable protags, but there are stories out there -- like GG -- where as a reader I feel a giant train wreck approaching. I can't take my eyes off the tracks and I don't care much who's telling me the story.

As I writer who believes the changing relationship between men and women is a topic worthy of an entire career, I also want to say GG is the best thing I've ever read on the subject. JMHO.

Hallie Ephron said...

Agree with Ramona on tiresome feh! Where I find myself getting lost is when I can't find a main character
Just lots of locomotives on a collision course
Teaching a crash. course today on writing crime fiction this a.m. At Nantucket atheneum so this discussion is timely!

John said...

I am a big fan of Gillian Flynn, and Gone Girl! I must agree that compelling characters are vitally important to me for a book to be compelling!

Mary Sutton said...

Put me in the "I need at least someone I like" and "no necessarily likable, but compelling." Or maybe likable is the wrong word. Frederick Forsyth's DAY OF THE JACKAL comes to mind. That is not a nice man. I don't like him, but wow, do I find myself gripped and almost wanting him to succeed! In fact, I think I need to scare up my copy and re-read that now.

But for a series, yeah, I think you need a more "likable" protag - or at least someone your readers will hang with book after book.

Edith Maxwell said...

Looks like I'm going to have to put Gone Girl on my TBR pile! In general, I do want to like the main character, though. For example, I have been missing Clare and Russ very much, so the prospect of an ARC is exciting.

Reine said...

Hank I know you are right about its being all about the plot—but... I wanted to like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I couldn't get through it. It was too harsh and cold. The plot was there, but it was smothered by hate. I need something in there that isn't lost in vengeance. I know there must the something beyond what I saw, because it was one of my daughter Jeanie's favorite books. She was a kind and sweet person. I tried to read it again, so I could talk about it with her. Couldn't.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

MAry, I think Day of the Jackal is the perfect thriller--how the author got us to root for the bad guy! Amazing.

How about when the main character--DIES? How do you feel about that? I'd give you some examples of truly terrific books where that happens--but worrying about spoilers. Well ,let's say, at least, GAME OF THRONES.

And RO and I met Joan Emerson! PHotos to follow! It was such a treat..xoo

Kristopher said...

Gillian Flynn is really making a name for herself with these unlikeable characters. Her other novels, before Gone Girl, while also excellent, all feature characters that are difficult to love.

I don't mind reading that once in a while, but I don't think I could commit to a series where I didn't like the lead. A stand-alone is another story.

Like Hank, if the plot is strong enough, I can usually get over my character dislike. But I can't really too many of those books in a row or I tend to get pretty difficult to be around.

Honestly, I can usually find *something* to relate to in most any character, but with Gillian's creations, that is not the case.

And yet, I still love the book. Go figure.

RobinPS said...

Prior to reading Gone Girl my answer would have been that I want to like the main character. But I could not put that book down!

Darlene Ryan said...

I'm with Kristopher and Hank, if the plot is compelling enough I can get past not liking the characters, but I will need at least a hint about why they ended up so unlikable.

Sandi said...

I need to find something I can connect with in at least one character. I don't necessarily have to "like" them, but I need to respect them or understand and agree with their goal... something positive. To use television as an example, Seinfeld was immensely popular and I hated the show. I couldn't watch it, because I couldn't like or respect even one of those characters.

Gigi Norwood said...

An outstanding villan can be delicious--who didn't love to hate J.R.? And I'm currently enjoying the heck out of the Evil Queen on Once Upon A Time, but I'm actually much more interested in the morally ambiguous characters like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or, going back to Once Upon A Time, Rumplestiltskin. Characters who have their own moral code and stick to it, even if it's very different from mine, are compelling. That said, I have to like at least one character in a book, or I won't stick with it. I really hate books where everyone is grim and nasty, or spineless and pathetic. Somebody has to show some moral character, compassion, or likability. Otherwise I could just as well tune in C-Span and watch Congress.

Catherine said...

For me, when the writing is good as it is with Gillian Flynn, I get sucked in immediately. In Flynn's case I find myself rooting for characters who ordinarily I would want to look away from. But it's her plotting also that compels me forward.

I think mainly I like strong characters and Flynn's are screwed up but they have an iron inner core.

Catherine

storytellermary said...

I think we need some likable and some not . . . to make life and books interesting.
I have a friend who always gives a little talk about real wolves and thanks them for taking the part of the bad guy in stories because there wouldn't be much story without that. I want to like a character or some traits of a character -- Scarlett had great strength and determination, despite all her selfish foolishness -- but it would be dull if everyone were sweet.
Now I'm remembering Mary T. Moore going nuts because some snarky woman didn't like her, but "everybody likes me" -- unrealistic goal, Mary.
Interesting that there's an overlap from writing into real life -- poor families will indeed need to be flexible and understanding. ;-)

Vicki Delany said...

One of my favourite non-likeable protags is iin Lost Girls by Andrew Pyper. Nasty guy, but compelling story. Which is what counts, right?

Lexie's Mom said...

I'll hop on the likeable/compelling train. While I don't have to feel like joining the character for coffee, I do have to become invested in them enough to go on the journey with them. Plot is important, too, of course. But if I don't like the character or find something compelling about them, I will put the book down. Haven't read Gone Girl, and don't plan to do so. For some reason, it just didn't hook me. Now, for a series, I have to love the character to stick with it. Flaws and all, I have to be invested in the character.

Gerald So said...

In a novel as a whole, I need to like at least one character for balance (or dislike one character if many are likable). I'm ambivalent about likability as a concept. Who can say for certain what readers will like?

A character may act despicably at any given moment, and yet at other moments, he may show potential that keeps me reading. Potential, more than contrived likability, is what I want in series characters, the potential to learn and change with each book. If a character isn't affected positively or negatively by his adventures, I lose interest.

Maryann Mercer said...

I admit to putting down books after just the first chapter because I couldn't find anything at all likeable about the first character on the page. Some of these books have gotten rave reviews, so perhaps I was either too picky or just not at the right place or in the right mood to deal with them. That said, I really enjoy flawed characters, so perhaps it's more the writer's style that influences me. I think I have to join the band wagon on "compelling" as well. And well drawn. If a character has some complexity, I'm more likely to give him or her a chance to hook me. Quirky helps too. Maybe that's why I got hooked on Marple and Poirot back in the day...to my (then) young eyes, they were fun AND smart.

Rhonda Lane said...

I haven't read GONE GIRL yet, either, although I started and stopped some months ago. I do have to make another run at it.

I did, however, recently read Flynn's SHARP OBJECTS which features a compelling narrator you wouldn't want to accompany on a road trip. I couldn't put the book down, even though it's filled with a lot of tough, hard images not for the squeamish. The book portrays portray small town life well, at least, as I remember it: the narrow scope of opportunities, the drive for conformity and gossip as an indoor sport.

So, if I can find a similar "hook" to catch my interest in GONE GIRL, I'll get some traction to finish reading it.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Gerald makes a good point--who can tell what readers will like?

And Hank, your comment about plot is funny to me because your characters seem very likable:)

Also meant to add, by likable, I don't mean sweet. I love reading the series by Arnaldur Indridason and Michael Connelly--their characters are dark and flawed but I love them anyway and feel compelled by their quests.

Reine said...

I don't need a book to have any likable characters or characters on the side of what is right—as long as the reader can be the understood character on the side of what is right. If it is the writer's assumption that the reader wants what is right to happen in the book—I am okay with that. That can be a great thriller.

Tammy said...

I can deal with compelling but unlikeable characters if I get justice, something uplifting, or a good resolution in the story.

I loved Gone Girl right until the end, and then I didn't like it much at all. Yes, you could argue those characters got justice, of a sort. But I wanted redemption, I suppose. I wanted change and evolution. Mind you, I'm fascinated by the characters, but I was extremely frustrated with the ending.

I suppose that allies me with Hank, in plot being more important? Maybe I'm saying I need one or the other, but not neither.

Denise Ann said...

I'm with Reine. I am actually curious about "bad" people, and I love books that help me to understand the whys of evil. I read true crime.

As for "Gone Girl," what a great example of the unreliable narrator!!! It could teach a class.

Speaking of books, I am the proud winner of an ARC of "Wrong Girl" -- and I was reading past one a.m. WOW!!

Anonymous said...

You people have done a terrific job in drawing from your readers such excellent comments! I want to reread this section again, slowly, and digest them - thank you all for your insights and honest talks! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Rosemary Harris said...

I'm still chuckling over Gigi's CSpan comment...

Mary Sutton said...

Game of Thrones might be the most frustrating series EVER! Every time I got invested in a character - wham! I though the series was going to be about Ned Stark. Uh, not so much.

I don't mind when a character dies - as long as it serves the story. When, uh, a certain character died in DEATHLY HALLOWS, I had to put the book down, walk away and cry - but I came back to it.

Am I the only person on the planet who just wasn't compelled by the characters in GONE GIRL? Not only did they not compel me, they repulsed me. =(

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Mary Sutton, I found the story compelling--the train wreck description fits perfectly--but yes, the characters were repulsive.

Jack is right--it's a very unusual combination. That's why I finally broke down and read it...

Joan Emerson said...

When the main character dies . . . okay, I didn't take it too well when the author suddenly and unexpectedly killed off one of the main characters in a series I was reading . . . after having read so many books in the series, it was really like losing a friend . . . . Now, whenever I pick up one of her books, it's an instant connect to how I felt then . . . and I just put the book back, unread.
Perhaps if the author somehow prepared the reader for this upcoming demise, it might not be quite so overwhelming . . . .

Deb said...

I wonder if we're willing to be a little more flexible about characters in movies? Just thinking about two movies I really like, To Live and Die in LA, where I don't think you could say that either of the main characters is "likeable". And you can see the train wreck coming but you can't look away.

And I just recently saw Collateral, which I loved. Jamie Fox's cab driver is likeable, yes, but Tom Cruise's hit man isn't, and he's utterly compelling.

Maybe it just comes back to good story-telling.

Still not very tempted to read Gone, Girl. It's falling in the "should read" category, and I have too many books I really WANT to read.

And, yes, today's points go to Gigi for C-Span:-)

Kristopher said...

Anytime Gone Girl is mentioned, it draws lots of comments, not just here on JRW.

For me, there is a difference between an unlikeable character (like Hannibal Lector) who is presented as a villain and Gillian's characters. I think the problem most people have with Gone Girl (if they have a problem) is that the characters are presented as every-day people who are just really unlikeable individuals.

I think we would be hard pressed to find any readers who would be anxious to hang out with Amy or her husband in real life.

But for very DIFFERENT reasons than not wanting to hang out with Lector.

I am going to be interested to see how the movie of Gone Girl does, given that I think the "viewing" public (even more than the "reading" public) requires someone to root for.

Anonymous said...

I hated Gone Girl. I read about two-thirds of it and put it away and know that I will never pick it up again. I will say that the writing and plot are both extremely well done and that's why I kept reading, but I hated the characters. I wouldn't stay with such people for two minutes in real life, so why was I giving them hours of my scarce free time?

pol said...

I found I had to keep reading Gone Girl because I wanted to see what happened. I did not like the characters, they were disgusting human beings...don't think I will read another book by her if that is going to be her modus operandi.

ktford said...

not necessary to be likeable..compelling and flawed work for me..sometimes is interesting without a main character if there are links to connect events and storyline...

ktford said...

characters do not have to be likeable, if storyline hooks me as long as story line is compelling and well written..

Cara Black said...

Mary and Hank getting back to your mention of Day of the Jackal - that's my all time fave. I re-read it every year trying to dissect why this hired assassin a professional just fascinates me...so do the other characters. I'm so fou on this that in Paris I've made a pilgrimage to the apt where the Jackal shoots and misses de Gaulle...the station was destroyed and the new Montparnasse is there now but the apartment they used in the film well- I've gone in there.
I've given up trying to figure out why -

KathleenMcC said...

I agree that the story should be compelling. But I think that there should be at least one character that is likeable. I have a very hard time reading a book that have unlikeable characters. I am reading one for review now and I haven't found a character that is likeable though the plot is good.

Lisa Alber said...

I agree with Jack that GONE GIRL was special--one of those rare books that comes along every once in awhile that seemingly breaks the rules--but wow! She has a special way with human darkness does Gillian Flynn. :-)

Hank's comment about it being all about plot intrigues me. I'm going to have to think about that. My sense is that for novels like GONE GIRL it truly is about character. If Flynn hadn't fleshed them out the way she did, made them compelling, the plot wouldn't have held me. The old adage about character being plot might hold here.

No one's mentioned Patricia Highsmith's series about Ripley. Sheepish here--I haven't actually read them--but isn't Ripley unlikeable? Yet Highsmith wrote five books...Any thoughts? (I tend to agree that series work better with likeable characters.)

Hank, you mentioned something else that intrigues me--when a series character dies. What comes to mind: Elizabeth George, when she killed off Detective Lynley's wife and unborn child. I thought it was a brilliant move because Lynley immediately become more interesting. His life was just too perfect (i.e. boring), then suddenly--boom!--tortured hero! George had been planning to kill of Deborah since almost the beginning of the series...Interesting, right? (Of course, she lost readers--just talked to a woman last night who is STILL outraged. :-))

CindyD said...

I started GONE GIRL and couldn't get into it - now I know why! And the question about liking a character is a good thought for book group. Many times when I haven't liked a book it may be because I didn't like any of the characters.
ps - I am desperate to read Julia's new book!

MsWormwood said...

"A Shock to the System" - the book is by Simon Brett, but I much prefer the movie ending (Michael Caine). You hate the guy, but the ad agency background is what makes the plot plausible. At least it does if you ever worked in advertising. (I can't watch Mad Men.)

Kathy Reel said...

I'm so delighted to see a discussion about this book on this particular blog, as I am most interested in how some of my favorite authors reacted to it. I felt quite in the minority when, after finishing Gone Girl, I was disgruntled and felt let down. For me, it was the dearth of any redemptive aspect of the characters that stuck in my crawl. The inability of any of the characters to escape the deep pit of despair created by the Queen of Crazy was unacceptable to me. Show me some backbone, people/characters!

I will admit that the plot was intriguing and kept me reading the book, but the feeling I experienced at the end of the book was total dissatisfaction. I think I uttered, "You've got to be kidding me!"

It's not as if likeable characters are perfect. They do, however, possess the ability to learn and grow from mistakes and flaws. Gemma James, Duncan Kincaid, Clare Fergusson, and Russ Van Alstyne are such characters, and I consider myself lucky to have found them. Thank you Deborah and Julia! Sure, there is darkness in the incredible stories in these two series, but there is the balance of light, too.

So, I thank you all for allowing me to finally rant about Gone Girl. I would love to win the ARC of your book, Julia. It would be wonderful to read it before meeting you at Bouchercon.



Vickie Radford said...

I love some series because of the characters, Martha Grimes with Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, James Lee Burke with Dave Robicheaux, not always likable but always tortured. I would love to move to Three Pines (if only it existed), those people might not all be pleasant, but certainly Louise Penny has made them fascinating, people you would like to know!
I read Gone Girl based on the reviews, and as so many have said, I couldn't look away. After that I read her first two books, that lady loves "dark". I had The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for over a year, couldn't get past the first chapter. Oddly, I watched the movie, went back to the book and started reading, couldn't put it down. Promptly read the other two and loved them all.
I think I like characters who seem real, a mixture of good and bad. All the comments made me think about my favorite TV show of the moment, Justified on FX. All the characters, good and not so good, are flawed, and I "love" them all.

Pat D said...

I haven't read Gone Girl yet either. Characters have to have some redeeming feature for me to keep slogging through their story. Years ago a friend and I went to see a movie the critics raved about. I think it was called "The Piano" and it starred Holly Hunter as a mute woman who is sent to Australia with her daughter to an arranged marriage. There wasn't one person in that movie to like. They were all awful! Villains can be extremely likeable. Look at the original F.U. in the British House of Cards years ago. Or Alan Rickman playing any bad guy. So, if you can't like the characters the story plot has to be exceptional to keep the viewer or reader involved.

Pat D said...

Vickie, you've got it on Justified. Lord I love that show. And I could happily settle in Three Pines. As for Melrose Plant and Richard Jury, do you think those guys will ever get married?

Deb said...

Pat D, laughing over Jury and Plant!!! Yes, they should get married. The perfect old carping couple!

But I still like them, after all these years, even though I think the quality of the books is very uneven.

Larry Gasper said...

I don't have to like the main characters, but I have to at least make a connection to them. If they're aware of their problems and trying to fix them, then I can make that connection. If, like I've read in too many noir novels, they're just a bunch of nasty people doing ugly things to other nasty people then I don't see the point of wasting my reading time on them. I met enough scumbags in real life when I was a jail guard in my misspent youth that I don't need to go looking for them in fiction.

Fran said...

I loathed Stephen Donaldson's "Thomas Covenant" -- arrogant, vicious, selfish -- but I read the entire series because I couldn't stop. Well, and I was waiting for him to do one altruistic thing (which he did. One.)because I have hope. And that's the whole thing, to me. There's got to be some kind of hope.

Austin Carr said...

Justified is the best show on television. Yay Elmore!

ANNETTE said...

I generally do not complete books when I do not like the main characters nor do I care what happens to them. In mysteries, there are villains who I do not like, but if they are horrific, I am not going to want to read the complete book. That is just me, I am sure. I am to a point where there are so many books I want to read, I do not see a good reason to finish a book when I don't care what happens to the main characters. Yes, I know, compelling and thrilling and all that good stuff, but to me, life has some really rotten people and I do not intend to spend my entertainment time with the same type of people.

Natalie S said...

Yes, it is easier to read a book or series where the main protagonist is likeable. But I do not mind having a protagonist that is deeply flawed and perhaps therefore unlikeable, IF the character is drawn in such a way where the inner motivations behind their behavior make logical sense in some way. For me it is the psychology that probably matters the most. I need to feel that I truly can make sense of why they take the actions they do. That makes it more satisfying in the end.

Lauren Taylor said...

I can't recall ever reading a book where I didn't like any of the characters. I have read many books that left me disappointed and let down, though. Only one book comes to mind where they killed off a character and I was outraged (Cujo... I still can't believe he killed Tad!) I'm going to have to agree that it's the plot and writing that's important, because it doesn't matter how great and likeable the characters are if the story doesn't captivate me.

Marianne in Maine said...

Ah, "House of Cards!" I love the Ian Richardson version and Francis Urquhart was totally nasty - but likeable in a sad way. But that was tv and I think it's much different for a book.

I haven't read GONE GIRL but I have the book sitting on my shelf. I don't know if I want to commit to reading it or not.

I think I good writer gives us strong characters that we invest in. And even likeable characters have human frailties that make us not like them at times. I was uncomfortable with Clare Ferguson in the last book at times, for example. And even Duncan and Gemma have had their off moments (not so much lately, though.)

If the main characters aren't likeable I don't feel that they are worth my time.

Pat D said...

Deb, I didn't mean to each other! But that makes me laugh too.

EileenHamer said...

Sorry, my life isn't long enough to spend time with unlikable folks. For one thing, they bore the bejesus out of me. If they're revolting, why should I care what they do? That said, I like some characters, like Lisbeth Salander, that others may not.

Pat D said...

Marianne, I agree that sometimes I wanted to shake Claire over some of the things she did in the last book. BUT, it would not have been realistic if she had come back from a combat zone and hadn't done some uncharacteristic things. Exposure to war and then exposure to "normal" life is very unsettling. Mind you, my observations are secondhand, but my now husband is a Vietnam vet and my son is an Iraqi war vet, and I did observe them!

Susan said...

I have not read Gone Girl, but I am so enjoying today's discussion! I am less concerned about whether the characters are likable than about how I feel as I read about them. Even if the characters are likable, if they face only misery page after page, I lose interest. (Which I think is a mix of the compelling characters argument and "it's all about the plot.")

Like Fran, I absolutely LOVED Steven Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books, even though the protagonist was not likable, because the whole story was inspiring and totally absorbed me.

I have been a huge fan of Elizabeth George for years, and much as it upset me when she killed off a character, I still soldiered on because I was so invested in the long arc of the stories. But in the several books since that untimely death (trying to avoid serious spoilers for anyone) I have become discouraged because it feels like she is unwilling to allow ANY of the main characters to enjoy more than the occasional stolen moment of happiness. I will probably relent, but when I read the last page of her newest offering, I said I would never pick up another. I'm too invested in these characters to just watch them suffer over and over again.

Marianne in Maine said...

Pat D, I totally agree! And I probably should have mentioned that there was a definite reason for Clare to be that way.

Authors make the characters human and that's what works so well.

Deb Romano said...

I don't mind a flawed protagonist; all people are flawed. Good people make bad decisions. A person can be a decent human being but behave in an immature way at times. What I do NOT like is a thoroughly despicable protagonist, or a book in which not one character had even the tiniest redeeming feature. I've read books in which I hated all the characters, and I crossed that author off my list. If I read a series book with hateful characters, I MAY read from that series again but if the hateful people make life miserable for the protagonist, just for the sake of making trouble, that's the end of the series for me. Right now I am trying to decide whether or not to give a particular series author another chance. There was a despicable person in the first book I read (NOT the first book in the series, though). Right now I'm reading another book in the series, and apparently he is in all the books. I hate him. I have not decided whether or not to finish reading the book. I will definitely not read any additional books by the author. As others have said, I read for entertainment. I'm not going to pay an author to put knots in my stomach!

I have no plans to read Gone Girl.

Reine said...

After rereading the comments I looked at how I felt about reading certain books at different times. It occurred to me that my response to any one book was dependent on my reason for reading at the time. Maybe I have to rethink this question—and revisit some books I had set aside. I'm glad I didn't throw them away.

Terrific discussion today, Lucy and all... I found myself questioning some long-held beliefs about myself. That makes it a good day.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Thank you Reine--and every one of you for thoughtful comments and a great discussion!

Pam said...

I'm more interested in the character being interesting than in her being likable.

That said, I'm remembering a series mystery volume I tossed aside recently and thinking that I prefer it when I like the character no less than she likes herself.

Utah Shakespeare Festival Blog said...
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Robyn LaRue said...

Characters that make me invested in their outcome are the ones that stick in my mind most, I think. In a series, as long as some sort of progress or enlightenment happened in the arc, and the character was compelling, I'd stick with them. It does help a lot if I can identify with them in at least a small way.

Rhonda Lane said...

I know, I know - this post is so two weeks ago. Anyway, I just finished reading GONE GIRL. I know Hallie's going to be talking about it in her Crime Bake master class, so I wanted to dive in before time got away from me.

Unlike many readers, I can't say I disliked the characters, probably because I recognized them as extreme versions of people I've known. I suspect one thing people might find threatening about the two Flynn books I've read is that her stories challenge institutions many cling to for comfort, like family, justice and small town havens.

So, I can see how GONE GIRL won all the crime fiction awards and basically built a house on top of the NYT best-seller list for so many weeks. Lots of twists, oh-no-he/she-didn't characters, a compelling voice and a tale masterfully doled out.