|April Wheeler "Revolutionary Road"|
|Viserys Targaryen "Game of Thrones"|
In reader book reviews, one of the first topics usually mentioned is the lead character, and whether the reader liked him/her or not. Like I’ve written in the past, the lead character must hook the reader in by good or ill deeds and often either breathes life or kills the story. Supporting characters have a role as well, and sometimes a strong supporting character gives enough strength to the story, or a group of supporting characters, as in the prototype dark fantasy LOTR.
But when readers say they like or dislike characters, does it mean they are not good characters, in reference to writing a story? Perhaps the better term is effective character. Did the character affect the plot? Did you remember the character after you finished reading the book? Readers often base preferences on characters they like, meaning that they can relate to, but when they say they dislike a character does that put down the story? Answer? Not always, from a writer’s standpoint.
I’ll go back to a non-fantasy classic mainstream writer’s favorite novel: “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates. I know plenty of readers that didn’t like the story or film, because of the depressing ending. But as a reader, do you remember April Wheeler? The 1950s housewife who felt trapped in their “safe” post WWII suburban lifestyle and wanted to act upon her dream of moving to Paris for a different life? She was selfish, hot tempered, but had dreams. Don’t we all dream? From a writer’s standpoint, is she a great character? Yes.
Another example, on the other sphere, my world of dark fantasy: “A Song of Ice and Fire” books or “Game of Thrones” cable series, take a look at first season (or first book) at silly stupid older brother of Daenerys, Viserys Targaryen. I didn’t find anything to like about Viserys, except that he had the vision of retaking Westeros but the methods were ideas of others. While we readers and viewers were glad to be rid of this stupid character (with a scene everyone seems to like) was he an effective character? Do we remember him? His family was murdered; he wanted his birthright crown, so he had a valid argument, though was sexist and violent. So from a writer’s standpoint, was he a great character? Yes.
Readers want to find a connection with the lead character. But likable characters need balance with obviously flawed characters, sometimes, selfish, jealous, or manipulative. These characters bring depth to the story and make it memorable. Most of the time, when I think about any novel, while the description of the world is important, the characters remain with me.