Sunday, 1 May 2011

The 'pleaseable' trope

Does your main character have to pleasingly sit within a certain trope'? Be believable?

This notion of 'believability' crops up in reviews of many writer's works and it is interesting. Readers (I am one of those too!) demand of a writer, the ability to construct believable characters with which we can relate, identify or at least understand and fathom - fit nicely into a recognised trope. Writer's want to write 'believable' characters; so you might think that this would be a happy marriage but ... notions of believability are highly subjective and a good writer will stretch and test the portrayal of characters in quest of reaching a truth, a unique voice.

Human beings (and therfore characters) are complex, multi faceted creatures with a whole pick and mix bag of traits, feelings, emotions and passions and faults. Now how faulted you find another human /character will depend on your own corrolative perspective; your own outlook on life. One man's selfishness is another man's execution of autonomy etc. etc.

I'm writing this after reflecting on comments that have ressonated across a couple of reviews; they've got me thinking quite deeply about the whole notion of characterisation and what readers demand from their characters.

This is particularly complex when writing YA fiction; afterall, even the loveliest teenager can display some highly irritating and annoying behaviours and not conform to our desired expectations. (I know; I spend all day everyday in the classroom with them. BTW and don't tell them - I kind of like them!)

When I set about writing 'The Knight Trilogy', I wanted to try and evoke a very true and real sense of being a teenager - a certain B side 'type' of teenager; my protagonist is a seventeen year old young woman; intelligent, complex, only child, prone to mood swings, impulsive changes of heart (Hmmm -doesn't ring a bell). She isn't your 'typically' portrayed teenage protagonist - to some readers, parts of her are unlikeable or seem cold - does this in turn distance the reader?

To an extent; yes. She is not every reader's cup of tea. She doesn't behave how we might want our lead character to behave; Some have read her behaviour as incredibly selfish and fickle, others see through that to see her as a strong independent female character pursuing what she desires rather than what is expected of her.

You see, I took a risk: I had my female character treat a very likeable, sweet, boy next door character badly, maybe even a little bit cruelly: But in defence, I believe it was done honestly. She falls instantly in love / lust with another boy and as some say 'just dumps' her lovely, sweet boyfriend - she's seventeen!! (I don't know about anybody else, but when I read over my 'prolific' journals of those years, I fell deeply, passionately, 'throw myself in front of a a speeding bullet', in love with a different boy once a month; sometimes there was even overlap. *coughs*)

The relationship she has with her mother is complex too and again, this has levied some criticism. You see, Mina's mother comes across to some as 'indifferent' and therefore 'unbelievable'. In reality, having worked with teenagers and their families for ten years, you'd be saddened to know how many parents are just that - indifferent. It's like a silent and invisible abuse.

Characterisation is therefore always going to be one of the writer's biggest challenge because of the whole paradox of art. I have a passionate love of modern art but even I fall into being one of the masses who don't really want to sit with a painting of 'reality' on my living room wall.

I never set out for my works to be purely commercial, I did aspire for them to be something more - a little more 'art' than 'dollar' (although, I have readjusted my hope that one day I might write like Umberto Eco - LOL)

And so, I believe that I have been successful in my intent. Some readers hate my characterisation / don't connect with my character which in my mind = successful characterisation; I have those readers who have instantly found her quirky, passionate, eccentric, independent behaviour utterly endearing and others who have found her cold, distant, erratic and selfish ; just like real life.


  1. It makes me think of the anti-hero, in some instances - especially in Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery. This likability of a character to me, is a moot point. There are some character's I loathed, but still read the book - for other character's I liked. For instance, there is Sansa in George RR Martin's novel. Can't stand her character, but I move past it. lol. I don't read young adult, I think it has to do with being a level headed teenager myself, and 'wise beyond my years' so I never did relate to my peer group. From what I read of YA articles- the wise teen seems to be as much a cliche' as the "impulsive" one.

  2. I agree completely. I'm thinking the Byronic / Heathcliff figure but then again they are kind of very much a 'type' also.
    I like characters that really challenge me to like them - I'm like this in life too.
    I never read YA fiction until I actually started writing it LOL. My teenage reading was more along the lines of the classic Gothic horror writers - which may account for why I veer towards the more transgressive.
    I didn't relate to my 'peer' group either, which is why Mina, is perhaps why she is what she is. LOL.
    Thanks for the comment :-)