My Writers Circle

Writing => The Writers Circle => Topic started by: "lorraineofkeli" on July 28, 2006, 04:12:49 PM

Title: Main character's likeability
Post by: "lorraineofkeli" on July 28, 2006, 04:12:49 PM
With the story I'm working on, the main character/protagonist is a psychopathic serial killer. 
The problem however is this: Does the lead character have to be likeable??  I didn't have the intention of making him likeable, but I've read that the main character should have some qualities that the reader likes. 
Perhaps the reader can feel sorry for him after reading scenes about his tragic childhood - but other than that, he's pretty much there to shock and unnerve.
Should I persist with this, or do I have to bring in likeable traits for an obviously deranged individual?
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: allyrose on July 28, 2006, 04:22:47 PM
If you have read any stories about serial killers you find out that when people first meet them they are the nicest human being you would ever want to meet.  They seem to know what their victims want to hear and so they are caught up with the moment.  They have to have some good traits to reign people in.
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Sara-Rose on July 28, 2006, 05:55:31 PM
Lets stop and think about this for a moment: readers must connect with the main character on some sort of emotional level if you are going to hold their interest.  Serial killers, i.e. Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), Jeffery Dahmer, Jack The Ripper, all arose revulsion in people because of the way they murdered and tortured their victims.  If the protagonist in your story is a serial killer how many readers are going to identify with him, feel sympathy for him and cheer for him?  Even the very best of writers would have a pretty tough time making such a figure sympathetic no matter how wretched a childhood the killer may have had.  And if the Protagonist is a serial killer, pray tell, who is the antagonist?  It would make more sense if the killer is the antagonist then the protagonist could be a cop, a psychiatrist or even a potential victim - now, there's a thought. 
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: "lorraineofkeli" on July 28, 2006, 06:34:26 PM
I have to admit you're right, Sara Rose.  I was just hoping to use a serial killer's perspective as opposed to the usual cop or psychiatrist etc. I can see I'll have to think about this in more depth.. I think it's helping me to think of new angles.. not from cop/psychiatrist point of view, but rather in the form of the format. I may have to come up with some other way of getting the story across.  I have other ideas coming into fruition now regarding chapters and more characters.  I'm now hoping to incorporate a glimpse of the victims' lives up until their untimely end at the hands of the killer.. and with that perhaps there really isn't one main protagonist.  Anybody read 'The Deadman Tapes'?  If you have, you'll get what angle I'm coming from in terms of the structure.
I don't actually remember the story apart from the way it was structured. 
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Writers Block on July 29, 2006, 04:47:45 AM
Reading the story there is nothing wrong with seeing and sympathising with the serial killers problems during childhood.  However that can't give him/her a reason for commiting the crimes.  These people make choices, they chose to do something wrong, terribly wrong.  There may be reasons why a person, or in the form of a book, a character does what he or she does, reasons do't make excuses.

Various types of individual choose to excuse what they do, because, that is self-indulgence, don't forget to let that come accross too.

Got to agree with Sara-Rose, difficult to write to pull off a main character of this type, would make for an interesting read if you could.

You may want to explore two character types, the likable serial killer, and the horrible cop who tries to do what is right.  May be an interesting read.

Tough to do though.

Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Milysmic on July 29, 2006, 02:46:03 PM
I think the best way to get the reader into your main guy is probably not from sympathy, but curiosity. I won't be able to relate with a serial killer on any level, so by me wanting to know what he's going to do next will be fueled by why is he doing this and how will the next murder take place. People are strangely interested in pychopaths and disturbed individuals. Fasinated with gruesome deaths and just plain ol' dead bodies. I hope this helps.

                                        Milysmic
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Pieinsky on July 30, 2006, 12:50:01 PM
Well, I have just started reading a book called crime and punishment. I suggest you read it, as the main character is a murderer. I have only read a bit of it but I can conclude that the substance that fuels me to read onwards in the book is curiosity, mainly the curiosity in the psyche of the main character. Such a book would really have to be about human nature.
It’s an extremely interesting choice as it deals with power, social status, resentment etc. Maybe you should have your character experiencing an internal conflict over whether they should kill x or not. Keep this internal controversy on for a good while to keep the reader interested.
However don’t make the murder victim a very happy nice person who tends to show compassion to the murderer, as this will anger the reader too much when they acknowledge this and the victims death. Since this may cause them to put the book down as to make a statement of resentment to the murderer. Yes I think people can really get that immersed into a fictional world. I would make the victim a nice person but also someone whose life during the story up to the murder is wreck. That way the reader feels sorry for the victim but the readers anger is most likely distributed amongst many people (people who made the victims life a misery) so not to narrow all the anger on the murderer.  :)
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: "lorraineofkeli" on July 30, 2006, 01:39:22 PM
Thank you all for your input on this topic.  It's all really helpful. 
If there are readers such as Milysmic and Pieinsky that are willing to read with curiosity, then perhaps it's not such a bad thing to write from the killer's deranged perspective. He is after all, still human - the workings of his mind are going to be of interest, surely? 
My intention won't really be to create sympathy for him - more a case of understanding - a journey into the way he develops.
I'm dreading the parts that will come to deal with his 'sexual' motivations now though. (Unavoidable really) That's another hurdle. I can write it, but I'd be embarrassed afterwards! Would readers think I was just as twisted??  :-[   (This is another reason for a pseudonym, as raised by Traveller's topic!)
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Pieinsky on July 30, 2006, 02:10:17 PM
I don’t think it matters too much. It might be a good idea to publish another book before this one. One dealing with a significantly less dark topic. That way people will see that just because you wright a book on a twisted character doesn’t mean your twisted. However a pseudom might be a good idea in your case, but I am not sure about this. ??? It may be a good idea for you to wright a series of books containing author pseudoms that share a common denominator but yet still differ. This would give an air of mystery to your works. It may entice people to read some of your works if not all. (Novel works) :)
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Milysmic on July 31, 2006, 04:25:24 PM
 Too Twisted? Have you read Partrica Cornwell? That's the best part of these types of thrillers. Us the reader not understanding the killers mind and how he/she could do something so gruesome. I don't think anything is too dark for a book that has a serial killer in it!

                                                                            Milysmic
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: "lorraineofkeli" on July 31, 2006, 04:30:22 PM
Thanks for the reassurance Milysmic. Gruesome and twisted is how I would like to portray the character. So sod it! That's what I'll do.
Haven't read any Patricia Cornwell, but maybe I'll check her stuff out now.  :)
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Milysmic on July 31, 2006, 04:34:13 PM
 No problem, I love patricia cornwell, do pick her up and you'll defintely get a great idea of what I'm talking about.
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: custard on July 31, 2006, 06:56:01 PM
There's nothing wrong with having a bad person as a protagonist, protagonist doesn't have to mean hero, just the person who moves the story forward. The antagonist would then be their adversary, who could be good. I'll give you some film examples that everyone should know.... "the first three episodes of Star-wars are based around the creation of Darth Vader ( a bad guy if ever there was one ), Scarface, Goodfellas.  these are just a few, and i know that i could find more if i looked.

Some-thing else you could look at is " what is good or bad " can you make your character be leagally bad but morally good? or vice-versa?

keep up the effort, trying to manipulate the rules is a respectable form of writing!!! ;D
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Writers Block on August 02, 2006, 04:58:49 AM
There's nothing wrong with having a bad person as a protagonist, protagonist doesn't have to mean hero, just the person who moves the story forward. The antagonist would then be their adversary, who could be good. I'll give you some film examples that everyone should know.... "the first three episodes of Star-wars are based around the creation of Darth Vader ( a bad guy if ever there was one ), Scarface, Goodfellas.  these are just a few, and i know that i could find more if i looked.

Some-thing else you could look at is " what is good or bad " can you make your character be leagally bad but morally good? or vice-versa?

keep up the effort, trying to manipulate the rules is a respectable form of writing!!! ;D

Very good points

Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Footnote on August 02, 2006, 05:16:18 AM
i don't think the main character has to be likeable. not every part of our persona is nice and loving and caring. we all have dark, angry, sinister sides to us. so even a serial killer will be able to connect with the audience on some strange, twisted level. it sounds like something i'd be interested in reading.
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Sara-Rose on August 02, 2006, 11:17:20 AM
Couple of follow-up points I would like to make to the main character likeability question.

First, in the original thread Lorraineofkeli used the term “psychopathic serial killer” to describe the protagonist. (How many of you noticed that?)  Let it be understood that a “murder” and a “serial killer” is NOT mentally or emotionally the same person.  We all have the capacity to become murders if properly motivated (by lust, passion or greed) or if threatened (self-preservation or protection of love ones).  However, a “serial killer” is a different animal.  It seems from the posting above that these two psychological entities are being confused.  There is no stretch to the readers’ imagination to make a murder a likeable main character, but I dare you to try it with a SERIAL KILLER.

Secondly, for all of you don’t think a main character has to be likeable or at least sympathetic, try getting the interest of a publisher who has to mass market your manuscript and see what kind of response you get.  I hope you take rejection well.  
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Dave Driver on August 02, 2006, 03:59:04 PM
If you didn`t intend to make the main character likeable then don`t,stick with it.Let`s face it people like to be scared and shocked.Everyone has a dark side, some don`t admit it.You wouldn`t invite Hannibal Lector round for tea and scones with grandma,but hey! we all "loved"him.

Go for it!


Regards

Dave
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: oliver on August 02, 2006, 04:51:20 PM
I think you are on safe ground. I don't recall Hannibal Lecter being liked or admired.

Oliver
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Sara-Rose on August 02, 2006, 05:14:13 PM
In "Silence Of The Lamb" by Thomas Harris, the protagonist is FBI trainee agent Clarice Starling.  The antagonists are serial killers Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter.

Thank you Dave for referring to this book; it supports the suggestion I made at the beginning of this thread.  And as you can see Oliver, Hannibal was not the main character - contrary to Anthony Hopkin's super preformance in the movie.
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: Dave Driver on August 03, 2006, 04:00:04 PM
I never said Lector was the main character just used him as an example.

And Oliver I did use loved in inverted commas.

Just like we all "loved" Darth Vader,Dracula,Ming the Merciless,Sweeney Todd and The Wicked Witch of the West!! or was it east (the one that the house didn`t land on.
Title: Re: Main character's likeability
Post by: custard on August 03, 2006, 05:39:33 PM
SARA_ROSE, you said, that a serial killer couldn't be likeable, so i'll give you an example of how i would get affection or at least compassion for a serial killer.

if my child was attacked and killed ( i won't go into detail but you get what i mean ). i decide that every peopdophile should die, so i go out and become a vigilante, killing a multiple number of these types. To the police i would be a serial killer, to others i would be a hero, or at least they could understand my reasons. I believe psycotic behaviour can be aroused in any of us, it just takes a number of extreme circumstances to occur in our lives.

that's why i made the point about  "what is right or wrong", as i see these are the areas that could be manipulated.