On Characters

A great deal of nonsense is written every day about characters in fiction — from the side of those who believe too much in character and from the side of those who believe too little. Those who believe too much have an iron set of prejudices about what characters are: we should get to “know” them; they should not be “stereotypes”; they should have an “inside” as well as an outside, depth as well as surface; they should “grow” and “develop”; and they should be nice. So they should be pretty much like us… A glance at the thousands of foolish “reader reviews” on Amazon.com, with their complaints about “dislikeable characters,” confirms a contagion of moralizing niceness.

James Wood from How Fiction Works

via Dr. Frank

Leave a comment


  1. I like characters that are meant to be disliked. They are usually more interesting. That said, I really get annoyed when the character I’m clearly supposed to like is a simpering moron who I just can’t like despite the fact that the author is doing everything short of claiming they have a halo on their head.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Cassandra.
    I don’t require a character to be sympathetic or “identifiable” either. I do want them to be interesting and/or entertaining. I don’t have to see myself (or, more accurately, my life experience) in a character in order to want to read about them.
    Years back, prior to it’s full publication, I had a good friend who owned her own bookstore send me a reading copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. She couldn’t finish it, she wrote, because she “didn’t like any of the characters. They were all too nasty or unsympathetic.” Then she added, “I have a feeling you’ll eat it up!”
    She was right, of course.


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