Thursday, October 25, 2007

Characters We Hate

The title of this post might imply I'm going to talk about villains and the dastardly folks we're supposed to hate when we read our favorite books. But see, I always like the villains in that I'm a sucker for a great bad guy. I'm talking about the heroine who's Too Stupid To Live, or the hero that makes the same mistakes again and again, yet we're supposed to sympathize with him because...well, because he's the hero.


There's nothing that turns me off to a book more than an author who doesn't understand her/his own characters. A confusing concept, but one that unfortunately exists. Now, I have no problem with irritating secondary characters that have issues which help the story progress. They're supposed to be aggravating to push us toward some outlying truth about the main characters or the plot. I'm just tired of the heroine who can't say what she means because she's too meek, who overnight finds a backbone. Of the woman too afraid of love because her parents died or her first fiancé died, so she spends the entire book whining about lost love only to end up glued to a guy who happens to be a cop--a totally dangerous occupation that she's suddenly okay with. Hello???? Or how about my all time favorite... the alpha hero who treats his ladylove like crap the whole book, but learns he's really being a jerk on the last page and changes a paragraph before the words "The End." And I'm supposed to buy this Happily Ever After? Not.

We've all seen characters thrown into contrived plots that drive us nuts. The idiotic moron who goes into the basement--alone with no flashlight--of a haunted insane asylum rumored to be the home of a psychotic killer. Makes no sense. But horror movies love this device to ratchet tension. We see it again and again. In a good book, the author can have the same effect building tension by creating a decent plot with characters true to their natures.

No, a man hurt by women in the past won't automatically open up to the woman of his dreams. But maybe he can learn through empathizing with her problems or by watching what happens to his friends in the same situation. Or maybe he never learns, and that in itself prods him toward an act so out of character for him that it in fact shakes him into acknowledging hard truths about himself. Just because a character is one of the good guys doesn't necessarily make him a good, i.e. well drawn out, character.

I, for one, loved Hannibal Lecter the first minute I "met" him. Same with Freddy Krueger, Darth Vader, MacBeth and Medusa--okay, I admit, an odd collection of villains. But each character was so brilliantly detailed, flaws and all, that he/she sticks with me years after having read the book or seen the movie where the character was introduced.

Oh, and just as an aside, I could come up with a dozen male villains off the top of my head. Female villains? Besides Cruella Deville and Medusa, who technically could be called a monster? Not so easy...

:) Marie

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