When Characters Make You Angry…

Yesterday I was discussing books with friend, and I commented that I had really disliked a particular book because the main character was her own worst enemy and just couldn’t seem to be helped no matter what kind of a leg up was given to her. She much seemed to prefer complaining about how terrible her life was and how she never got a break in life than to actually ever try to fix anything. It drove me nuts. My friend’s response gave me pause. She suggested that feeling that much hate towards a character is also a sign of a really good book because the author has deliberately made you feel that way, and has obviously done a great job of it. Thinking about it further, I realized that I read that book 20 years ago and I still remember it well, and I still get angry when I think about the character. I also realized that I have never once said that the writing was terrible or that I put it down because I couldn’t get through it. It just really made me angry.

Since that realization, I’ve started considering other books I’ve also “hated” for similar reasons. The characters were unsympathetic, unlikable, and people who made it difficult to care about them. But where is written that it has to be otherwise? As I suggested in my previous post, one of the things that makes me fall in love with a book are rich, unforgettable characters whose lives I become invested in, but if the world were as black and white as liking the hero, hating the villain, life would be pretty boring. How to Get Away With Murder has quickly become one of my favourite TV shows, but Analise (the main character) lies and cheats and is overall pretty selfish, but I absolutely love her! She’s hard to like, but she’s complex, interesting and compelling, which I think are the most important things a character can be.

Sutter in The Spectacular Now made me really angry. He was a walking train wreck on a path for disaster. I wanted to shake him and scream at him and give him a solid kick to the you-know-where, but the key is that I felt something. Regardless of how much of a disaster he was, he compelled me to keep reading, and to remember him.

A book that makes you feel any emotion strongly (love or hate) is a successful book So the next time you want to throw a book at the wall because it makes you angry or scared or sad, take a deep breath and keep reading because we read to feel, and it’s a special kind of book that makes us feel that intensely.

11 Responses to When Characters Make You Angry…

  1. PK Hrezo Mar 13 2015 at 7:28 am #

    Such a great point. Something I’ve been reminded over and over with reviews of one of my own main characters. Making someone feel something about a character is an accomplishment, even tho it doesn’t always feel that way.
    Anti-heros are way more interesting. They are beautifully flawed. Two of my faves are House and Gemma from SOA.

    • Rachel
      Rachel Mar 13 2015 at 10:09 am #

      Agreed! It’s their flaws that make them interesting!

  2. Alexa S. Mar 13 2015 at 10:20 am #

    I LOVE this post, Rachel! Because I feel this way too. Anytime I feel really strongly towards a character – whether it’s good or bad or somewhere in between the two – I know that the book is great. The writing is effective enough to provoke me into feeling, and I think that’s important to acknowledge!

  3. Christa Mar 13 2015 at 10:23 am #

    I definitely think this is true sometimes. Some examples that come to mind are When She Woke and any Courtney Summers book. The characters seem like their own worst enemy and that can be so frustrating. But that’s part of who they are.

    However this only works if it’s consistent with what we’ve already learned about the character. If the character does something stupid because they’re flawed than great – flawed characters make the best characters so I’m probably going to enjoy the book. But if a character does something stupidly out of character because it’s more convenient for the plot that’s a little annoying and obvious to the reader as well.

  4. Terry Mar 13 2015 at 10:28 am #

    I think maybe it’s not so much a character makes me angry for being hapless or helpless, as that sometimes the ‘annoying’ character feels irritatingly predictable – you just know they’re going to land themselves in trouble by their own stupidity, which makes me lose sympathy with them. Especially if they then repeat the errors??

  5. Kim Graff Mar 13 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    I felt the same way about Tess of the D’Uberville! I hated it for so long, then I realized it was really a great book because it made me feel so much and so strongly.

  6. Rowenna Mar 13 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    So true–an author can use anger with a character as a great tool of engagement. I do think there are times when a character–or the way they’re written–makes you angry without the author’s intent to do so, though–and to me, those are the characters and books I don’t care for. I recall a book I read in a college French lit course where the author was certainly attempting for a sympathetic character, and I just wanted to smack her–she was selfish, she made the same mistakes over and over again without learning from them, and the qualities the author clearly wanted the reader to value in her just didn’t give me enough to work with. It wasn’t that I felt something about the book–I just wanted to sop reading because I couldn’t engage with the character. But many in the class found her engaging or sympathetic or could relate to her, so I realized–much of this is in how the reader reacts, not just in what the author writes. Another case of never pleasing everybody!

  7. Erin
    Erin Mar 14 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    Love this post, Rachel. And totally agree about Sutter. I ADORED that book, but wanted to shake some sense into the MC the entire time.

  8. Marianne Curley Mar 14 2015 at 5:16 pm #

    Explained very well. Especially relevant in a series where the character will grow and change and might even become someone you respect and love by the end. Great post.

  9. Bruna Mar 28 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    I agree! If you feel strongly about something is because you care. And books that can make you feel strong emotions are usually good books. Personally I don’t have to like every main character that I read about to enjoy a book. If a main character is meant to be unlikable and gets under your skin with their attitudes, then that’s a sign of a well written story. 😉

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