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General Category >> General Board >> Do characters have to be likeable?

Message started by Adrienne_Ray on Jun 5th, 2013, 6:17pm

Title: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by Adrienne_Ray on Jun 5th, 2013, 6:17pm

I listen to NPR in the morning and Rush in the afternoon. I try to maintain a balance of sorts.
Anyway, on NPr a few days ago a woman was lamenting that if you write about a female character that is unlikeable and not pretty, people don't seem to want to read about her.
Excuse me, but, DUH!
In her defense, she mentioned male characters that were not likeable, such as Hannibal Lector or Dracula and said people liked to read about them.
As for me, I don't care what you look like, there has to be someone in the story that I like and I generally prefer for the good guys to win. Stories where everybody is bad, such as the show "Breaking Bad", seem pointless to me. I have to want someone to succeed. If everybody is evil, why am I wasting time reading this story?
What I like is interesting characters doing interesting things. Oh yeah, and the good guys should win...after a certain amount of struggle.
My question to this forum is, do you think this society tolerates evil women as much as they tolerate male bad guys? Is it okay to be Hannibal Lector but not Lucretia Borgia? Also, is it okay to be evil as long as you are good looking?

Title: Re: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by J. Davidson Hero on Jun 5th, 2013, 11:26pm

I think the best villains will have some characteristic that makes them sympathetic to the audience, not likeable but sympathetic.  In the case of Dracula, I think the story was about the heroes Mina and Jonathan Harker, Dr. Van Helsing et al fighting Dracula who was pretty much pure evil in the original.  People might find Dracula interesting, but there were still good guys to root for, and they did succeed in the end.  On the other hand, maybe some people are just fascinated by the power that the evil characters often represent.  They can do things that normal people can't, break society's rules and taboos etc...  And it can be interesting to find out why the villain becomes the villain.  Isn't that what the Star Wars prequels were all about?  You can't have a redemption story without a fall from grace first, right?

With all the interest in fairy tales these days it seems like there are a lot of wicked step mothers and witches about and as far as I can tell people do seem to find them as interesting as the male villains.  I recently saw the movie "OZ the Great and Powerful" and there are two villains in that movie and they are both female.  I think the bigger problem is that our society more often than not "judges the book by its cover."  It equates beauty with goodness and ugliness with evil.  In "OZ the Great and Powerful," the Wicked Witch of the West is beautiful until she becomes evil and then at the same time she becomes ugly.  Her sister the Wicked Witch of the East is also beautiful, but that's a deception.  She's much more evil and in the end, of course, she's even uglier than her sister.  That's way too simplistic for my taste.  But back to the original point, I don't see why evil female characters being beautiful would have to extend to written characters.  Stories and novels aren't a visual medium like movies and TV shows, and the picture of those characters will be created by the reader in their own minds.  If a writer describes a character as being ugly, or in the case of a first person narrative has the character inform the reader that they think they are ugly, is it really going to turn the reader off?  

BTW I liked your contest story Adrienne.  :)


Title: Re: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by Webbie on Jun 8th, 2013, 9:08am

I must dis-agree with NPR totally.

The character is not likeable, not pretty but I was glued to the screen.
In case you don't recognize the screenshot it's from "Misery".

I've seen Ms Bates in a few roles, she does not disappoint. A very talented actress.

Title: Re: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by Adrienne_Ray on Jun 12th, 2013, 5:25pm

Thanks, John. I'm always glad to hear someone likes my work. There's more to that story. Hopefully, I'll be able to post  that too some day.
Kathy Bates does do an interesting villain. Unfortunately, Webbie, you are right that often 'good', 'pretty' and 'smart' are considered to be inseparable. Meaning anybody pretty must be good and smart and that anybody ugly must be bad and stupid. We should all agree to challenge such stereotypes in our literature.
I'd also like to see a love story where the girl isn't beautiful and the guy isn't rich. Must 'romantic' movies that claim to be a tender love story would never happen if the man wasn't rich and the girl was 50 pounds overweight.

Title: Re: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by Gary A. Markette on Jun 13th, 2013, 10:48am

The love story between my beloved Sarah and I might surprise you. Both she and I were overweight, neither of us was rich, and I certainly can't be considered handsome. She was beautiful, though, so perhaps that disqualifies. Someday I may put our romance to pen. No Harlequin or Hollywood nonsense, though--our tale followed no formula and ended way too soon.

Title: Re: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by Jeangoldstrom on Jun 13th, 2013, 7:20pm

Gary, you two were a _beautiful_ couple -- and always will be -- in every way that matters.

-- Jean

Title: Re: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by Webbie on Jun 15th, 2013, 10:09am

After thinking about this topic for a bit I think I have to dis-agree even more while at the same time pointing out the disparity involved in film vs. print. Film is portrayed by actresses who almost by definition are attractive whereas print is up the reader. An example of a major charater might be Asimiv's Dr, Susan Calvin who is described here:

According to Asimov's fictional history of robotics, Susan Calvin was born in 1982, the same year that US Robots and Mechanical Men was incorporated. At 16 she wrote the first of many papers on robotics, a Physics-1 paper entitled 'Practical Aspects of Robotics'. Four years later in 2002, she attended a Psycho-Math seminar at which Dr Alfred Lanning of US Robots demonstrated the first mobile robot to be equipped with a voice. Susan said nothing at that seminar; took no part in the hectic discussion period that followed. She was a frosty girl, plain and colorless, who protected herself against a world she disliked by a mask-like expression and a hypertrophy of intellect. But as she watched and listened, she felt the stirrings of a cold enthusiasm.


An excerpt from Harlan Ellison's screenplay adaptation of I, Robot has this to say about Dr. Calvin: "She is a small woman, but there is a towering strength in her face. Tensile strength, that speaks to endurance, to maintaining in the imperfect world. Her mouth is thin, and her face pale. Grace lives in her features, and intelligence; but she is not an attractive woman. She is not one of those women who in later years it can be said of them, 'She must have been a beauty when she was younger.' Susan Calvin was always plain. And clearly, always a powerful personality."

But the part was played by:

In this part she relies more apon makup to look the role rather than being the role. In this case you can make the argument that she is attractive and does fall into the pattern they are talking about.

Title: Re: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by Adrienne_Ray on Jun 17th, 2013, 5:48pm

Gary, I bet your story would be a love story worth reading. It's a shame movie script writers can't understand that real love has nothing to do with what you see in the mirror.

Title: Re: Do characters have to be likeable?
Post by Jeangoldstrom on Jun 22nd, 2013, 7:14pm

Adrienne, you are so right. American films, especially. I watch BBC videos a lot, and they are much better in that way. For example, there was a series called "Life on Mars," which isn't what it sounded like -- it was actually about a police officer involved in time travel. Goldy and I watched every one of the BBC chapters. Then we realized there was also an American version of the same story, same title. We were barfed out halfway through the first chapter. Cliche-looking people, cliche handling of the originally intriguing plot...sigh. I guess the film makers know what sells in their respective countries. How embarassing for us in the US!

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