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  1. #1
    Dave O
    Guest

    Are standards changing?

    Are the standards for writers changing, and if they are, is it really for the best? I've seen some threads echoing similar thoughts, and I got to thinking.

    Take for instance, the main character of the story. I've heard it stressed quite a bit by both agents and the writers here that the character has to be likable. Some of the comments I got from an editor that I was working with are, this isn't a very noble thing to do, this isn't very likable, this is hypocritical, this turn in a character's behavior is unpredictable, etc.

    But I do all that on purpose. Because I think the greatest characters don't always have to be likable. The best characters can't be read as easily as a book, and they do things that surprise or even shock us.

    Take for instance, Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye A lot of people I know complain about how Holden is so whiny, annoying etc (I guess this also applies to Anakin in Star Wars episode II). But that's just what makes him interesting to me. He isn't the run of the mill character. Salinger wasn't trying, at least in my opinion, to make him a character you'd instantly fall in love with.

    Going with the Star Wars example, people often attack Lucas for the way he portrayed Anakin in episode II. But again. Yea, he might've been annoying, but that was his character. He wasn't supposed to be perfect. He wasn't supposed to even be likable for everyone. He was supposed to be Anakin as Lucas envisioned him to be at that particular time in the saga.

    Dostoevsky, one of the most famous writers of all time, writes his Underground from the point of view of one of the least sympathetic characters of all time. I mean, if you really try to you can make a case for him, but the simple fact is, he's petty and self-absorbed, and he's smart enough to knows his flaws and and failures but still continues to commit them regardless.

    I can go on, of course, but you guys get the gist. I guess my question is, why do we all of a sudden have to have characters that are likable? Why do we have to have stories that start off with a bang if that's not how we imagined them to be in the first place? Is it right for a writer to cater to his audience? Certainly Lucas didn't cater to his, and although I wasn't alive at the time, I'm sure Dostoevsky's work was very controversial when it was published (and continues to be, even now). Should we deviate from our vision to make our writing more suitable for mainstream audiences? I guess this is more of a rant than anything, but I'd be interested to hear your guys' thoughts.



  2. #2
    Kate B.
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    I wonder if it isn’t cyclic. I, for one, am sick of books, movies and TV shows full of characters that I don’t like. When Seinfeld started, the idea of 4 deplorable characters (who usually came to a satisfying thump at the end of the episode) was interesting and different. Now, it’s tired, I think, and being done by people who don’t do it well.

    I didn’t like the direction of Anakin’s character in Star Wars, either. With all respect to the genius of George Lucas, I wanted something special out the character: depth, pain…some motivation besides standard teenaged angst to make him turn his back on everything he loves (and love, itself).

    I’m thinking of the first Star Wars Trilogy (3,4, and 5)…Leia was aggressive and at times abrasive, Han was purposefully aggravating, and Luke was as whiney as Anakin is later. So why did it work? IMO, because you’re rooting for them against an overwhelming force and overwhelming odds.

    That element is missing in Catcher in the Rye. I HATE the protagonist…probably because he’s privileged and conspires against himself to make his life fail. Many of the people I know who dislike the book didn’t started out with much and don’t identify with the struggle.

    My $0.02, FWIW

  3. #3
    Kate B.
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    Of course that rant wasn't in reference to you Dave...if you can make unlikable characters work, I think you should. I'm just musing about why the trend is the way that it is.

  4. #4
    Sail Away
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    I guess this is more of a rant than anything, but I'd be interested to hear your guys' thoughts.

    Well, I don't have a guy, so you'll just have to make do with my thoughts.

    Does a main character have to be likable? Not at all. Your MC can be anything you want him/her/it to be. If you are a gifted writer and philosopher (along the lines of Dostoevsky), you might be able create a thoroughly nasty person with no redeeming qualities and with no chance at redemption and thereby create a piece of literature that brilliantly illuminates the existential angst of man struggling to come to terms with his in this universe.

    You seem to be equating “likable” with “perfect”. MCs are much more interesting if they are NOT perfect. Flaws, even severe ones, can draw a reader into a story. To use your example, Anakin, in episode II, was in the middle of a story arc - as a whole he was a likable character, or at the very least a sympathetic character.

    Don't be lazy, Dave. Create a nasty character if you want. Just make sure you give your reader a reason to keep reading.

    -SA

  5. #5
    Beautiful Loser
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    You don't have to have characters that are likable. However, your characters should draw in your reading audience. That said, give the characters something your readers can relate to.

    Take a look at Ken Kesey's use of his characters in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Absolutely brilliant IMHO.

    Again, I agree with Sail Away.

  6. #6
    Arden Wolfe
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    "Does the main character have to be likeable?"

    No, not unless you don't want to sell anything. Now, let's be clear because I think everyone is confusing likeable with fascinating and interesting.

    You do want your characters to be 'likeable' so the reading audience can root or sympathize with him or her.

    Remember that word: sympathize.

    Webster's defines sympathize as: To have sympathy; to feel in consequence of what another feels; to condole; to harmonize.

    The key here is the harmony. The reader must identify with the main character.

    Yes, you can write about a deplorable main character and sell copy. Tucker Max proves that. But his main audience identifies with the character.

    See the difference?

    The other item I want to touch on is: "Some of the comments I got from an editor that I was working with are, this isn't a very noble thing to do, this isn't very likable, this is hypocritical, this turn in a character's behavior is unpredictable, etc."

    Random things happen in real life. People are unpredictable. Coincidences happen every day.

    But they better not happen in fiction.

    People want established rules in fiction. The reader is unforgiving if the main character does something out of context as established with your writing. They feel betrayed. They thought they understood the character, but he or she went into left field and threw it all out the window.

    They'll stop reading after that.

    This is what your editor is getting at.

    Remember that the reader wants to root for the protagonist. If they can't, it's a harder sale for the publisher.

    And sales is what it's all about.

    Consider that OJ book for example. Everyone thought it would be a surefire thing. Look how that blew up in everyone's face. Fascinating? Sure. Noble? Hell no.

    Again, sales push the agenda.

    Always remember this is a business.

    Peace.

    Wolfe

  7. #7
    Arden Wolfe
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    Oh, and to answer your base question: Yes, standards are changing. But that's the way of the world. What was in yesterday is out today. Tomorrow will be different too because tastes evolve.

    Consider the vampiric romance trend. Five years ago, no one would touch it. Look at how it dominates the shelves now.

    Just something to consider.

    Wolfe

  8. #8
    Beautiful Loser
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    Which is exactly why I prefer creative nonfiction, Wolfe.

    Can't say I follow trends, whether concerning vampires, romance, or other genres.

    To each their own.

  9. #9
    Carmel C
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    Back from Spain - Great thread for my return.
    I hate trends and rules and you must and you can't - bah.

    WELL SAID though Arden and others.

    For me I hope only to write a great tale and forgitaboutid!

    Then again if I want it published...

  10. #10
    James Lewis
    Guest

    Re: Are standards changing?

    Arden said it all. If talking about the main character, you definitely have to sympathize with him/her. Take for example the movie "Goodfellas."
    Ray Liotta's character was neither a good or bad guy. Matter of fact, if I remember correctly, he didn't kill anyone (he may have helped dispose of a body or two).
    But Joe Pesci? He was ruthless, kill-anybody-on-sight, no remorse kinda guy. Unless you strip some of the gangster image and reveal the human side under all that thick skin, the main character won't work.
    Even Mel Gibson's character in "Payback" was a bad guy, but most people can understand wanting their money back.

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