Thursday, May 16, 2013

When Characters Irritate...

There was this recently released YA novel I'd been dying to read since I first saw the cover and read the blurb almost a year earlier (why do this to us publishers?). I finally got to read the book, the book I'd heard was all kinds of awesome and brilliant, and after having been assured by bloggers and friends I'd love it.

I didn't...

The reason? The main character irritated the !*@# out of me!

Ewan McGregor gets angry
Yup this was me after the first chapter... and then after every subsequent chapter.
This experience was new to me. Sure I've read books where I disliked or even hated a character but even then I enjoyed reading the book because I wanted to see the jerk get his comeuppance - kind of like how I handle watching Game of Thrones without throwing a brick through my screen every time there's a scene with Joffrey in it. I'm convinced he's going to get skewered one of these days so I keep watching in hopeful anticipation.

Not so with this book sadly. A main character doesn't need to be likable but they need to be someone we can root for, someone we can hopefully relate to and empathise with - or someone we love to hate, like Klaus from The Vampire Diaries. The problem with an irritating character is that I can't root for them, I can't relate or empathise with them because I just want to slap them every second page. I finished the book hoping the character would die and relieve the fictional world of their existence. Sadly not, and there's even a sequel 0.o.

So why did this character rub me up the wrong way? Oh let me count the ways:
  1. Weak and easily manipulated
  2. Oblivious to just about everything important
  3. Made inane references to cult-classic pop culture (possibly more author's fault than character's)
  4. Made stupid decisions, not bad decisions, just ridiculous
  5. Spent far too much time worrying about getting kissed instead of surviving
  6. Tried too hard to be cool - this may actually be the author's fault too
It's tricky to separate the author from the character since the author is the god of their book world and controls character action, decision, dialogue... everything. I can forgive points 1, 2, 4 and 5 as aspects of a character that I just didn't like - if this were a real person we would not be friends. But points 3 and 6 are entirely on the author. 

Yes, YA is intended for a teen audience but it's not written by teens and many authors try way too hard to be cool in their writing. You can capture authentic teen lifestyle and voice without cramming dialogue full of slang, without referencing clothing brands and gadgets to the point where it seems like product placement and please authors, stop with all the 'cool' references to pop and Internet culture like memes. It's not cool, it's irritating as hell and dates the work immediately. This is why I tend to steer clear of contemporary YA, except all these irritating points weren't actually in a contemporary book, which made their presence all the more annoying.

Have you ever met a character so irritating you wanted to tear up the pages or break your eReader?


  1. Now I wanna know who you're talking about! LOL!

  2. Now I'm curious, too, about which book that was.

    I've read a couple books like this, though there is one I remember in particular where the concept of the book was awesome, but I was actually quite happy when the character got her memory wiped at the end of the story. I think it was for points 1, 4, 5, and 6, though especially the worrying too much about the boy and trying to be cool.

    I think you've brought up some valid points, and it's something I'll definitely try to remember while writing.