Monday, July 20, 2009

Cut 'em some slack


It matters a lot to me that I like the main character in a book. If I can't find something about the person I can relate to, or if I can't imagine spending time with such a character, I lose interest.


So why am I still reading a book in which the narrator is so in love with this vindictive, self-centered , and marginally psycho girl that he tosses all common sense and self-respect out his Chrysler minivan?

The author is John Green for one. He has a reputation of delivering. And psycho girl isn't the main character, the boy who's in love with her is. He may be a knucklehead, but he is a likable knucklehead. Also, I have a soft spot for the girl-who-loves-and-tries-to-reform-a-broken-love-of-her-life, so I'm willing to go for a ride with a boy like that. In other words, I'm cutting the book some slack because of the writing/the author's previous works, a trust that he will handle the story in a satisfying manner; and because of some quirky personal preferences.

I'm not quite at the stage where I want to yell at the character yet (do you yell at TV screens or books?) but I had better find out soon just how this lovable love-sick puppy is going to deal with what happens next. And he'd better deal with it in a non-stupid, non-lame way.

As a writer, I wonder how much time I can spend in showing a character's flaws before my readers lose interest. Too little time, and the character's growth seems negligible. Too much and readers start wondering why they should care.

All these dumb, unclear, and ever-changing lines.

6 comments:

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

It's true that an unlikeable main character kills a book. That is the trick to give a character flaws but still make us care. One more thing to juggle.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I yell. And throw. And leave them under the bed to gather dust. Why is it always easier to see the flaws in someone else's writing than to fix it in my own? Maybe I should just be an editor...

Yat-Yee said...

Actually, Sherrie, I yell at the characters on TV (haven't yet yelled at a book yet) and not the writer, as in "can't you see she's just using you? Stop being such a fool and have some self respect!" Kinda like, "don't go near that closet, the killer is there waiting for you!"

But I definitely know what you mean by the blindness to my own flaws, in writing and in life!

tanita davis said...

Heh. I know what book you're reading. I didn't love Margo, either. I wanted to exorcise her from the book. But, I wasn't all that fond of Alaska, either. I like that you acknowledge that stories often have girl-loves-and-tries-to-reform-boy. The one good thing about both Margo and Alaska is that they're the bad girls. But they still both kind of drove me nuts.

Yat-Yee said...

Can't stand Margo. Q is at the point where he's crying and punching the oak tree and missing her, and I am ready to go haul him away and tell him he's got great friends in Radar and Ben, and parents who care. She is not worth your tears and heartache.

(I am actually a romantic at heart, and get all gooey with doomed love stories and acknowledge that falling in love can be an overwhelmingly powerful thing that you forget to be rational...but still!)

MG Higgins said...

This is something that really bugs me about established writers--they can get away with stuff us newbies can't--like unsympathetic characters. So many times I've read a book by an author I enjoy and think, "Did an editor even look at this before it was printed?" Thanks. That felt good to vent.