View Full Version : If you hate the main character, do you keep reading?
August 14th, 2007, 10:30 AM
It's a straightforward enough question. When I say hate though, I don't mean like, you don't think he's interesting and therefore don't like him. I mean it more in the way of, if you think a character is dispicable, does it turn you off to the whole story and cause you to stop reading?
Obviously most of you would probably say that as long as the story is good, the characters are interesting, and the writing is top notch, you'd keep reading no matter what happened, provided the book wasn't lying or preaching but I know some people who refuse to watch the Soprano's because it puts a human face on horrible murderers, and I've seen quite a few people say that they stopped reading Matthew Stover's Heroes Die because they were uncomfortable with Caine.
Is it possible to go too far? Obviously if your main character is doing bad things needlessly it makes things a bit harder to stomach than if he feels like he has to do it. But what if he's presented with two options, one's more difficult but it would be the more, eh, "Good Guy"-ish thing, and the other option is much more likely to work, but it would involve lots of innocent deaths and what not. If the character doesn't even think about attempting the harder course of action, because accomplishing his goal is more important to him than the innocents or avoiding destruction, is this too much?
Frequently in movies and books I always see the "Hero" of the story doing something stupid because the easier route would make him less pure and wholesome of a hero. Things like a bad guy grabbing a civilian so the hero will either have to shoot through her and prevent the nuclear bomb from going off, or put down his gun to avoid one innocent life from being taken. And usually this sort of thing pays off. If the "Hero" didn't even think about it though, if he just blasted right through the civilian to take out the bad guy, is this unpalpable? Does this make him the bad guy? And are things like this enough to get you to stop reading?
August 14th, 2007, 11:07 AM
You should DREAM of being able to make people hate a character. It's a priceless quality.
As far as "hero" doing hateful things, it gets done all the time. And not just by the many "anti-heroes".
Sometimes you see a guy get misunderstood, it later turns out that the reason he did the awful thing that made everybody hate him was for a greater good...which may or may not be discovered and appreciated by the other characters.
You want to see a really cool example of this (with Antonio Banderas as the cool hero/asshole, no less) check out a cool little DVD called "And starring Pancho Villa As Himself".
August 14th, 2007, 11:23 AM
Things like a bad guy grabbing a civilian so the hero will either have to shoot through her and prevent the nuclear bomb from going off, or put down his gun to avoid one innocent life from being taken. And usually this sort of thing pays off. If the "Hero" didn't even think about it though, if he just blasted right through the civilian to take out the bad guy, is this unpalpable? Does this make him the bad guy?
Yes, it makes him a bad guy. It makes him ruthless. But it doesn't stop him from being a protagonist. A protagonist is not the same thing as a hero. What we look at in fiction most of the time is the choices that characters make. Sometimes those choices are the hard, heroic choices. Sometimes they are not. Both can be interesting, which is why writers write stories about them.
Take "The Sopranos" -- your friend didn't like it because it was about bad guys. So what. It was a massive hit and my husband and many other people loved it. That doesn't mean that a story about bad guys is always a hit, but it's not prevented from being one either just because it is not a hero story.
I loved the t.v. series "Deadwood," about the infamous Dakota mining town, even though I'm not sure the ending of the series really worked too well. No one in that show was entirely heroic, though some of them sometimes did things that were sort of heroic or at least nice. I did not miss an episode of it. I loved Al Swearagen, who was a thorougly evil man. I cheered for him to win over other equally awful people and for him to be defeated by people who were almost as bad as he was. It was a fascinating character study. Millions of other people enjoyed it too. But I certainly know people who would be very unhappy with and uninterested in such a series/story because it's just not the sort of thing they enjoy.
We don't all have to like the same things. If I'm willing to watch/read a story with a villianous protagonist, and your friend is not, I don't think there's any great meaning to it.
August 14th, 2007, 11:36 AM
I don't think I've ever stopped reading a book or watching a film because a protagonist is despicable. For the most part, the protagonist is like that to serve a purpose, and it's to our benefit to read on and discover what that purpose is. And like Lin said, any protagonist that can provoke as strong of a reaction as hate must be doing something right.
I think that, as long as there are very carefully constructed reasons (relevant to the novel's storyline) why the protagonist is the way he/she is, then it doesn't matter whether they're likable or not. I mean, it's not like authors create slimy, dastardly SOBs who go around beating up old ladies, running over puppies, punching out Cub Scouts, setting orphanages on fire, and stealing a homeless man's hat just because. ^_^ And if they are, and there's no rhyme or reason to the protagonist doing all that, well, then, maybe that'd be the exception. But to date, I haven't really run into anything like that yet. :D
August 14th, 2007, 12:09 PM
I've seen quite a few people say that they stopped reading Matthew Stover's Heroes Die because they were uncomfortable with Caine.
Caine is a many layered character. On earth he is the manufactured "superstar" In many ways a wimp. Has no control of his life etc. But on Overworld he is the brutal assassin., who lives by his own warped code. But he does have a code of behaviour and that in Hero's Die he crossed at one point and all through the book he lives with the results of that in both worlds.
So really Caine is your typical flawed hero, whether a good man doing bad things, or a bad man that does good it is up to the reader to decide.
Personally I enjoy both watching and reading about such flawed protagonist. If you have an idea for a character people would "love to hate", then go for it. The "grey" characters are always, least to me, more interesting to both read and write about than your black or white ones.
August 14th, 2007, 03:04 PM
Depends on the character, of course. Generally, I will keep reading. But then I'm a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to villians and anti-heroes. Complex, shades-of-grey types tend to be more interesting, imo. For example, Tyrion, from ASoIaF. The moral ambiguity of such characters makes us rethink our comfortable (and sometimes stagnant) views on right and wrong. I would hope that most readers of sff would find that stimulating, rather than a stumbling block to their enjoyment of a story.
August 14th, 2007, 03:26 PM
I personally stop reading if it's the first book. I won't continue the series unless it has something mindbreaking or a strong cast of supporting characters who I like reading about. However, if I've been reading it for while, see SoT, I'll keep reading it. But I'm not sure if that's normal because I really liked Richard but somewhere along the lines, I hated him. And it's not like he became a bad guy and it was made for me to hate him. I've never had that happen to me before. Most of the stuff I read the characters grow and change and even if I may not like them as much as I did before I can see and understand why they've changed and at least I don't hate them.
August 14th, 2007, 04:02 PM
It's a straightforward enough question.
Nope, I stop reading.
I never could finish the first Thomas Covenant book after the rape scene.
August 14th, 2007, 04:21 PM
I think the answer is two-fold. Am I supposed to hate the main character? See, in a case like Tony Soprano, he's a horrible guy but he's also the protagonist. We're not supposed to like the things he does, we're not really rooting for him, but at the same time we are supposed to care about him.
Same with people like Anasurimbor Kellhus, Elric of Melnibone, everyone in the Empire's employ in the Malazan series, Tyrion Lannister, and later Jaime, in the Ice & Fire series, etc.
Not all of these guys are main characters, but they are protagonists. I know that they are not the most savory of people but the authors succeeded in making me care about them.
Now, if I'm supposed to like the lead character and I don't, that's a problem. If I'm supposed to look upon this character and see a heroic, true, good figure and instead I see, say, whining, self-serving, irritating people instead, I don't want to continue reading (though I sometimes do anyway).
Some people have said this about Rand and Nyneave (among others) from the Wheel of Time series. I could see how they could come off that way, but I still liked them and felt that they were being presented as they were meant. On the other hand, I felt that Terry Goodkind really wanted us to like Richard, but he made the guy a megalomaniac with delusions of perfection and a need to steamroll over the opinions of everyone who disagreed with him. Not a likeable guy at all.
So, in short, if the whole intent is to create an anti-hero who is purposefully unlikeable but still interesting enough to make me care what happens to them, then I read on.
If the character is supposed to be someone we like and can identify with but is instead annoying or downright unlikeable because the author was unable to create a likeable character, then no, I quit reading at that point.
August 14th, 2007, 04:59 PM
The character in my story starts off as sort of naive and innocent, but ultimately weak due to his upbringing. When he gets thrust into the big bad world he comes to terms with the fact that he is thoroughly unprepared to survive in such a cold, ruthless place, and the only reason he does survive is because he adapts, and becomes just as cold and ruthless as the place he lives in.
In fact, he thrives, because he winds up being even more cold and ruthless than his environment, which combined with an intelligence rare in this world (though potentially quite common by our standards) makes him one hell of a guy to tangle with.
The problem that I'm coming with is that he's ultimately faced off against impossible odds, and the only way he can turn the tide is to do something so heinous that I'm somewhat concerned it would turn the readers off to him. On the flip side I could be overreacting and the readers might find it to be quite ingenious and awesome. Hence the question. When I say heinous, I mean it'd be like Jack Bauer (from 24) personally nuking Los Angeles in order to kill all the terrorists. And yeah, maybe Bauer feels like it's the only way, and maybe it is, but he's still killing millions of innocent people in the process.
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