Hello! Caitlin Considers is my fortnightly discussion/rant post, and this time we're looking at likability. This was totally supposed to be posted yesterday, but I lacked INSPIRATION so you're getting it today and you're just gonna have to deal with that.
Pretty much every review talks about the likability of characters, and this is usually seen in fairly black and white terms. The character was likable, this is a good thing. The character wasn't likable, this is a bad thing.
But what makes characters likable? Personality traits, how they deal with the situations they're in, how they treat those around them? Sometimes characters that shouldn't be likable are, and sometimes the reverse happens. A lot of the time, some of us will LOVE a character and some of us will hate them. Prime examples are love triangles, we all pick teams. But what makes us choose one, prefer one, over the other, how much of that is down to the inherent qualities of the character and how much of it is down to us, down to our preferences and experiences and interpretations?
I want to talk about Katniss Everdeen. I think she inspires (some) contention in terms of how likable she is. She resents her mother, she loves only a few of the people around her, she's manipulative, very, very cynical, sorta indecisive and ultimately afraid of intimacy. She probably shouldn't be very likable, but she is. She's brave and determined and loyal. She would do anything for sister, and for the others who have gained her trust. Her good qualities often outweigh her bad, her good decisions offset the mistakes. And really, this is how it is with real people. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes.It's easy to judge the characters we read about because we're impartial, separate. We can look at the big picture and we can see what they should've done, should've said, should've known. But I think it is this realism that makes us love Katniss and others like her. It's the idea that this person, flaws and all, could exist.
There's another type of likable character, the fairly bland one. A great deal of YA heroines fall into this category and they exist as a vessel, a means of visualising ourselves into a story. When we read about them, we don't see a character; we see a situation, a love interest. These heroines are a bizarre mix of unremarkable and remarkable. They're average, but everyone loves them. They're weak but strong, selfish but brave, they're independent, but reliant on those around them. They're likable because they're almost a negation of themselves. They could be anyone and everyone. But whilst they seem superficially likable, if you investigate them further, it's easy to turn on them. I tend to feel fairly ambiguous towards these characters. I understand their purpose, but I don't like them. I respect people's right to think they're awesome, but I wish they wouldn't.
Then there's the other characters; the ones we shouldn't like but do. The bad boys, the villains, the ambiguous characters. The Will Herondales, Valentine Morgensterns and Severus Snapes of the world. They aren't really good, or nice, sometimes they're not very brave and sometimes they're downright abhorrent. But we love them anyway. In spite of, and sometimes because of their flaws. We justify their actions, rationalise their thought processes. We like them when maybe we shouldn't.
Personally, I'd say I like the characters with stronger personalities. I like them to not be a cliche, to have flaws and bad judgement, to make mistakes. I like it when I go on a journey with a character, when I start off disliking them and grow to love them, to root for them, to want them to succeed.I like characters that feel as though they could walk off a page, that they're an entity in their own right and not a creation of someone else's imagination. I don't want perfection, or ideals, or wish-fulfilment. Even if I don't like them as a person, I still like the fact they exist for me to not like, you know?
What do you think? Are there certain types of characters you just can't tolerate, certain types you will always like? Do you evaluate every character on their own merit? If you don't like someone immediately, is that it or do you change your mind? Do you pretty much fundamentally disagree with everything I just said?
Characters I love:
Magnus Bane from TMI&TID/Anya Balanchine from All These Things I've Done/Cole St. Clair from The Wolves of Mercy Falls/Tris Prior from Divergent/Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games/Nick Ryves from The Demon's Lexicon/Isobel Culpepper from The Wolves of Mercy Falls/Christian Ozera from Vampire Academy/Dru Anderson from Strange Angels
Characters I didn't like at first but grew on me:
Mae and Jamie from The Demon's Lexicon/Puck from The Scorpio Races/Graves from Strange Angels/Clary Fray from TMI/Tod Hudson from Soul Screamers/Elena Gilbert from The Vampire Diaries/Keenan from Wicked Lovely
Wow this ended up pretty long and fairly convoluted...kudos to you if you read the whole thing!