Today I'm focussing on all things character-related. Who are my favourite characters? And my least favourite? Which characters do I love to hate? What makes a good character? What are some character clichés I hate to see? Read on and I shall tell all.
In a recent post about my most loved bookish traits, I mentioned that I love flawed characters. One of the best examples of this, in my view, is Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen's Emma. I have such fond memories of this book, partly because I was living and working in France at the time that I was reading it, and would email my mum regularly with updates on what I thought of the book. I remember complaining about how annoying Emma was and how I found all her decisions really frustrating, and my mum reasoning with me that that was the whole point. Now, over a year later, Emma is one of my all-time favourite Jane Austen characters, and definitely the most memorable! She is so infuriating, but she is also unfailingly earnest and owns all of her stupid mistakes. I definitely think that flaws give characters room to grow, and they just feel a bit flat and unrealistic without them.
Another of my absolute favourite flawed characters is Bertie Wooster from P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series. He's another character who makes all the wrong decisions and gets into some ridiculous situations, but you can't help loving him in spite of (and sometimes because of) it all. That doesn't stop me wanting to tear my hair out at some of his more frustrating antics though!
So we've had talked about characters I love despite their flaws, but what about characters that I just downright hate? Is that necessarily a bad thing?
In a word: no. I read a really interesting discussion post recently by the ladies at The Socratic Salon, in which they discuss whether disliking a character makes them dislike a book. It's really worth the read, and definitely check out the comments at the bottom, as there are some really insightful and interesting ones. Their arguments basically boil down to the author's intentions and their skill. If an author means for you to love a character but you really hate them, or if you dislike a character because they don't feel lifelike to you, then that's potentially a reason to dislike a book. But, to me, the real question is, do the characters feel real? Could I believe that a real person might do this? If yes, I'll probably still enjoy the book.
My discussion post on Wuthering Heights also brought up the idea of loving a book when you hate the characters. Emily Bronte's famous novel is definitely a prime example of that (though I know plenty of people who hate it!), because I absolutely hated pretty much all of the characters, but ended up loving the book. Admittedly, I didn't like it very much the first time I read it precisely because the characters were so awful, but on re-reading it as an adult I was able to look past that much more.
Creating characters that readers love to hate is, in some ways, quite another skill, and is one that can really pay off in terms of making a book really memorable. For me, one of the absolute best love-to-hate characters is Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter books. I just know that in real life he would be absolutely insufferable, but on paper I find him so entertaining. He's the perfect balance of completely infuriating and completely oblivious, leading to some pretty hilarious scenes in that book. Plus there's the fact that J.K. based him on a real person... I can almost see her rubbing her hands with glee while she was writing him.
Finally, are there any character traits that really do spoil a book for me?
As I mentioned before, finding a character annoying, or even downright hating them, is not enough to ruin a reading experience for me. What really matters is whether the characters are fleshed-out and seem like real people. One-dimensional characters or ones that feel too clichéd, however, are capable of spoiling a book for me, or at least marring my enjoyment of it. Badass heroines who do nothing but kick butt in knee-high boots might be OK for some, but most of the time I find them lacking complexity. Similarly, characters that are too perfect just annoy me (I'm looking at you Sara from A Little Princess! Give me Mary Lennox any day).
What are some of your favourite/least favourite characters from books? What traits do you love/hate in your characters? Can you recommend me any authors who are particularly great at characterisation?