Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Character Sympathy

I am very resistant to the idea that a character simply cannot be sarcastic and likable at the same time. (Not just because that would invalidate, like, my whole personal persona, though that is obviously a factor! ;-))

So I'm trying to figure out: what makes you like a character? When you're reading a book, what makes you decide to care about what happens to the protagonist? What character traits make you want to throw the book into your nearest toilet?

You don't actually have to be a literature person to answer this. I'm asking anyone who's ever read a book.

7 comments:

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

Who said that sarcastic characters cannot be likable? I LOVE sarcasm, especially intelligent sarcasm. I find it endears me even more so to a character - as long as they have other endearing traits and aren't otherwise a jerk - well even then...

Really, I like characters who are well written, complicated, (as all people are), whose motivations are clear, but not too clear, whose actions and statements are believable and fit their heretofore established personas. I even like nasty characters who fit the above parameters. Or rather, I like the way they are written and what the bring to the story (even if I hate them at the same time!).

The main thing that makes me stop reading a book (or suffer through the rest of it) is when the character's motivations are unclear, the behave in ways that don't make sense, if the don't have a full enough personality and character traits to make them a believable person, or when they are written overly simplistic - I find that just offensive.


p.s. as a response to what you wrote on my blog:

I've found a place now, finally. I've been living in SLC for about a month now.

And said gay man and I am actually very good friends, and through his blog is indeed how I found yours. Which I now thoroughly enjoy reading.

k said...

Well, welcome to Salt Lake! And thanks for reading my blog! It makes me happy to hear that it's enjoyable. ;-)

Audra said...

I love sarcastic characters. Really I do. But I am also a sarcastic person. Find the person that doesn't like sarcastic characters and I BET -

they are NOT SARCASTIC!

That is the dilema (sp). I think you will only reach a certain audience of sarcastic, smart and witty people when have a MAIN character use sarcasism.

That is ok with me. Just let the other 5% of the world read CRAP!

Emily M. said...

Are they kind underneath the sarcasm? Do you get to see where the sarcasm is coming from, or does it just seem mean? Do they ever regret the snarky things they say? The sarcastic characters I like have some depth to their sarcasm? They are snarky, and at first it takes me aback, but then they say or do something that makes me like them. I'm trying to think of a good example here. Maybe Megan Whalen Turner's "The Thief," and its sequels. Eugenides is a little pill, definitely sarcastic, but I'm pulling for him all the way. In the first book I'm pulling for him because he appears to be the underdog--he may be mouthy, but he opened the book in a dungeon, and that's inherently sympathetic. In the second book I'm pulling for him, although he's mouthy, because he got his hand cut off, and he's in love with the woman who did it. In the last book I'm pulling for him because the world's against him.

Hmmm... this is interesting. If you stack the plot deck against your mouthy character enough, then it seems like their sarcasm is justified, earned. At least that's how it worked in those books.

p.s. I enjoy your blog. :-)

k said...

Well, welcome to my blog, Emily M!

k said...

and audra, you are so right. the person objecting to my sarcastic character is NOT SARCASTIC. It's a problem. ;-)

sarah/januarys said...

i'm like 3 years late on this. but i felt like saying.... if a character is sarcastic, it takes away from their perceived vulnerability. i want to feel protected in relating to a character, like i will always be able to piece together a genuine picture of their heart.

but if i could see through the sarcasm to the real person, that's a whole different story. you can put on a face for the other players, but putting on a face for me is just mean.