Do I Like This Character?
I’m reading a crime story with a fast-moving plot and terrific writing, but I may not finish it. What’s the problem? (Besides the fact that I’ve developed reading ADD.) The character, although well developed, is not someone I relate to, and the world she lives in is sleazy. I want to see how this story turns out, but every time I put the book down I feel like I need a shower.
I had this same problem with another book I read recently. In the middle of the story, the protagonist, supposedly a reformed criminal living a good life, participates in heinous crime. As a reader, I wanted him to get caught and go to jail. So I lost interest in the story. This happens for me with movies too. If there is not a single character who I find decent enough to root for, then I shut it off. I’m typically not someone who sees the world in black and white, but with crime stories, I want good guys and bad guys who are clearly discernable. (Elmore Leonard is the exception! And everyone can cheer for a likable jewel thief.)
Other readers in the book discussion said they didn’t have to like (or relate to) the protagonist to find a story compelling. I guess for me, good characterization means developing characters that readers care about, relate to, like, or respect in some way. But that definition may be narrower than the rest of the reading/writing world sees it. How do you define good characterization? Can it include protagonists who are unlikable or deeply flawed? Have you written a story with an unlikable protag, and what motivated you to do so?