Friday, February 27, 2009

Characters as friends

This from Zoe Heller, quoted in a New York Times profile to coincide with the launch of her new book, The Believers:

Ms. Heller was a bit dismayed to learn that some readers found “there were no sympathetic characters,” that “they didn’t want to spend time with them,” or that they “were not inspiring in any way.”

...

“I don’t write books for people to be friends with the characters,” Ms. Heller said as she tucked into a spartan brunch of a boiled egg and seven-grain toast. “If you want to find friends, go to a cocktail party.”

It's an interesting one that. One of the most common comments you will find from amateur critters of stories is that "I couldn't like any of the characters". To which the reply should be, "So what?"

I think this is part of the readers' group phenomenon, this fetish for liking characters; that, and a general trend in society for everyone to be "mates". Personally, I find nothing so cringeworthy as parents saying that their children are their "best mates". They're not, they're your children. But everything seems to have to be conducted on the basis of informal, casual, easy friendship.

So I'm with Ms Heller all the way. As long as your characters are believable, and you are interested in what happens to them, there is no compunction to make them - any of them - likeable.

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