Tuesday, January 14, 2014
People don't like my main character
by Meghan Roos
Living in a small California town in the mid-1960s, Rebecca Gallagher and Riley Parker are two young playmates, neighbors, and best friends when they first see a mysterious light glowing from a dark grove within their neighborhood. More than a decade later, nearly every other factor in their lives has changed, and it seems the only things that have remained true are their unfaltering trust in each other and the existence of that same hidden light.
Question from the e-mail: Someone in my library reader's club said they "hated" a book we are reading because the main character is such a jerk. He IS pretty much of a jerk... As a writer, that interested me. Why should it matter whether they "like" my main character?
Answer: Readers identify with the main character. And if he acts like a jerk, they might find it difficult, or unpleasant, to think of themselves in that role.
Even those who love literary stories read to experience vicariously other lives, other wheres, and other times. It was no fool who said, "We are the sum of our experiences, not the sum of our possessions."
As writers, when we create a story, we also create an experience for our reader. Not all such experiences have to be pleasant, but when they are unpleasant, we must give the reader plenty of reason to stick around.
The key is to make the reader understand why the character acts the way he does. So my guess is, that in the book you are reading either the motivation for the character's "jerkyness" is not made quite clear, or if it is, your commenter didn't "get it."
As my good friend Alice Orr once taught me, "Good characters do things for good reasons and bad characters do things for bad reasons, but they always have a reason."