Monday, February 17, 2014

Should people want to be friends with your main character?

I almost phrased this "should people like your main character?", but what I mean isn't quite the same thing.

There are characters are like who are not people I would like to know. As a for-instance, Al Swearengen on Deadwood, played by Ian McShane, is my favorite character on the show. Is he a teddy bear I'd like to be best friends with? Hell no. He's a calculating saloon owner who runs whores, has a stranglehold on the dope that comes into Deadwood, and kills people who get in his way. But he's an amazing character. The perfection of the creature he is meant to be (until Season 3, but in general, I don't much like Season 3).

I've talked about this before, When Your Character Does Not Do Nice Things and really, I have the same character in mind while thinking these thinks. I'm also reading a book about publishing, which on one hand is a good thing to be doing, and on the other hand is a little irritating because I do not always agree with the author (who thinks Toni Morrison is difficult to read. I do not.)

It's difficult to have an anti hero, I guess. I can't think of many (or not while I"m writing this, anyway; I don't want to just Google it and cheat). Howard Roark from The Fountainhead, I'd suppose, though he is goal oriented, and those goals are not harmful to others. The people who oppose Howard Roark seem to do so for the sake of it, because he is not a member of the club, and he will not play their games. My most favorite moment in all of that book is when the newspaper man who's been dragging Howard Roark's name through the mud for almost the entirety of his career finds him alone, looking at his completed work in satisfaction. The newspaper man says (paraphrased, I believe, unless I've got it by rote memory and didn't know) "All right, Mr. Roark, now that nobody can hear us, I want you to let me have it. What do you really think of me?" Howard Roark looks at him and says "I don't think of you at all." Perfection.

So, whether you like my main character's decisions, his lifestyle, his tastes, you should want him to succeed. Right? Right. In The Last Song, much of what takes place during the action of the novel is because of Love. Or Need. Or Want. These things are all intertwined for we humans, I feel, and especially intertwined for who my main character is. And these things are a good motivation, a good reason for wanting to do something. So for all his flaws and foibles, for his addiction and his dirty mouth, I want you to want my guy there to win. You don't need to be his friend, but you should want him to win. Maybe I got it right; in a couple weeks I'll read it again, and enact the notes I've been ruminating upon in a separate file. We'll see.

6 comments:

  1. I've always described my current heroine (this WIP is the second book she's in) as a "unapologetic pain in the ass". Somewhere in there, though, there's a plucky little golden retriever puppy who just wants to be happy and loved. I don't know if I'd want to be friends with her, and I don't know how likable she is, but damn it, I'm always rooting for her and I hope readers do the same.

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    1. Sounds like there's something to root for, anyway!

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  2. I don't think people should necessarily want to be friends with your main character. Some of my favorite characters are crafty villains. I love a smart villain, but don't think I would want to be friends with him/her. I know this might not be exactly what you mean by "main character" but I think in several cases the villain is more interesting than the main character and "makes" the story.

    One example of what I mean is the Hannibal series. I have only read the first one, so it might not be enough for me to judge. But I didn't read the series for Will. I read it for Hannibal. And in this case I would consider Hannibal to be more of a main character than Will, even though the story is told from Will's point of view. If that makes sense at all.

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    1. Some villains are the best part of the series, so I definitely hear where you're coming from (and I think my go-to example there, Al Swearengen, is arguably one of the villains [at least in the first season], not the "main character").

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  3. I think there is a difference between liking and rooting for. Maybe I'm biased on this question, but the most common reaction I'm getting to my protagonist, Betsy Bonaparte, is a variation on the theme of "Sometimes I wanted to shake her, and sometimes I wanted to hug her." She did a lot of things that people don't approve of, yet because she is so real to them (at least, that's what they tell me) and because they know how many difficulties she had to overcome, they keep rooting for her till the end.

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    1. I agree, it seems there definitely is a difference!

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