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Fringe Fiction General Chat > Hateful characters, for your reading convinence

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message 1: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Wells | 1890 comments Mod
"Hi! You just transferred here? Great! I'll be your designated antagonist for the remainder of your high school education. Don't worry. I have a full course load, tons of friends and extracurriculars but I'll make an obscene amount of time to harass you for extremely superficial reasons!" said the popular teen who is more sociopath than bully

"Say, I couldn't help but notice you're the opposite sex. I know this is going to sound ridiculous but I'm utterly unabashed and candid in my ignorance of what 'masculine' and 'feminine' means, adhere to harmful stereotypes whenever possible and get outrageously aggressive whenever my opinion is openly or subtly challenged," said the modern sexist who participates in society without realizing it progressed.

And other such two-dimensional characters who appear in books so readers have a convenient target to vehemently despise...

Ignoring the obvious instinct to denounce this as lazy, shoddy, emotionally manipulative writing I want to propose we examine this from a different angle - isn't this effective in a way?

By creating an obviously despicable character the author is ensuring the readers will have a nearly unanimous response to them. Rather than spend pages - or even chapters - establishing a side-character's personality so they can serve a specific purpose and/or further the plot, they're just doing their thing so the characters of importance can get on with the real story.

Not all characters need to come in shades of grey, exude moral ambiguity or elicit a conflicted reaction from the reader - some are just there to give characters a convenient reason to talk and perpetuate conflict as the story demands.

Without dismissing this outright as "bad writing never to be done under any circumstances" what are your thoughts on plot-device characters - the unsung heroes of pacing - who are guaranteed to get results without pages of tedious rationalization and justification?

message 2: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) I think I understand what you're asking, but I put heavy emphasis on "I think."

As an author, I learned to love all characters, even my villains. And believe you me, that was no easy task. It took me years to get to that point, and now that I have, I just can't go back. So, I can't say that I create hateful characters for the sake of hating and filling up space. I just... don't. Everything's there for a good reason.

There's one character in my thriller who's a despicable pedophile, loves little boys way too much, and runs his own whore house. Just the idea of such a person actually existing is enough. I didn't need to add or emphasize with a flashing neon sign, Here's a character you're suppose to hate because I'm the author and I said so! (That probably would never fit all on one sign, but stilll...)

So, I presented this disgusting excuse of a human being character as he is - a businessman. That's what he does, that simple. It's not the kind of business that anyone would really want to know, nor get involved with, but that's all it is to him, just business. I feel, by presented the character in that way, I made him hateful enough without having to spell it out word for word.

When it is spelled out word for word, it tends to desensitize readers and that hateful character becomes boring and dull from the readers' perspective. From my author's perspective, Jack is one of THE most vile characters I've ever created. Will readers hate him? Honestly, I have no idea.

message 3: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Wells | 1890 comments Mod
Totally respectable and I'm the same but - stepping outside personal approach/preference - what do you think about plot device characters being employed to further a story that isn't about intricacy so much as setting a tone for more developed characters to launch off?

message 4: by Michael (new)

Michael Benavidez | 1720 comments I never liked characters that were there just to move the plot, especially if they're "villains" and not actual motivated people that get some development.

Like in this one story I have in mind, he's a father a husband with a past. He's retired from it, and on the surface he's all loving all caring. When the story gets going he's this racist pig full of secrets, but it's not him being that way just for the sake of plot action. It's who he really is, and it's a gradual reveal. Not a "oh hi i'm a racist piece of shit who will slit this beaner's throat and dress him up with a sombrero."
In short, every character that advances the plot deserves at least a little bit of development, or reasoning behind their madness. Not just pop in and out when needed to add that bit of spice.

hope I got to the point and made sense, and was on the right point about it.

message 5: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) I'll be brutally honest. Like Michael said, characters that are just there to move a plot or be a stepping stone for main characters, make my eyes glaze over and I ignore them when I'm reading. Or, and this happens more often than not, I just stop reading. I feel that enforced hateful character tends to have to opposite effect. Instead of leading readers by the nose, it bores readers to death.

The only exception I can think of is stories that are more like a soap operas, where there's several threads going on at once, so you don't dwell too much on the plot-driven characters that are nothing more than straw men (or women, or animals, or frogs).

Making such characters hateful really isn't going to fool anyone. Any reader will see, whether a villain or a hero, that the character is pointless.

message 6: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Wells | 1890 comments Mod
Given the amount of YA I read I've felt the need to reconcile my differences with superficial characters otherwise reading gets hard! I'm wondering if it's almost a staple of the genre and deserves a special view for analysis.

Honestly, though, I'm with you guys on giving the reader something. I'm just trying to be open-minded to the merits of minimalism in writing rather than my usual auto-critique ^^

message 7: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Which I can totally understand. But here's the deal. No matter how much meaning you put in any character, the chances are high that you'll always be the only one who sees the meaning. Such is the life an author.

Eden Fell, as you know, is highly symbolic. I never wrote Eden as an obnoxious hateful charater on purpose. I just wrote the story. But, I guarantee that if I removed all the symbolism and tropes, there would nothing to read. Or anything to write for that matter.

13 Reasons way doesn't have any pointless characters. Neither does Speak, another succesful YA novel out of many. I personally wouldn't advise taking it seriously when you see superficial characters. It doesn't mean anything, other than the author got lucky and got away with it.

message 8: by Michael (new)

Michael Benavidez | 1720 comments I think it's more that YA being a big market, and so many people wanting to be published (then again i'm not one too talk, only in Horror and not YA) they may tend to be carbon copies of each other. I hate to generalize a whole group, but to me that's what it looks like.
I do know though that there are YA that do give the reader that extra mile in character development

message 9: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) I suspect what you might be sensing in YA lately is the concept of assessablity. Make it assessible to everyone, which is just a polite way of saying make it dumb enough for any idiot to get it. Which, unfortunately, has become very common and most obvious in YA.

Pros and cons with that concept.

Pro - greater chance of making a lot of money faster.

Con - even greater chance of being hated by next week.

Pro - collecting royalty checks despite the fact that everyone now hates you.

Con - everyone hates you and the second anyone gets the chance, your book will be burned (figuratively speaking... sometimes).

So, it's a gamble either way.

message 10: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Wells | 1890 comments Mod
I guess I'm just trying to be positive so I have an opportunity to appreciate more stories on whatever level than be searching for that magical, pitch-perfect book that does everything write. That's like 10% of books - if even.

Discriminating tastes is just feeling like a slippery slope I don't want to be on, especially the more I write my own stuff. I definitely need to have a separate mentality between reader and writer. Makes me too judgey and/or competitive >. <

message 11: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) I know the feeling. A few month ago, I sent out a cry for help to friends. Help! I have nothing left to read!

A bunch gave me fantastic recommendations and I discovered new authors. I'm now a huge fan of Stephen Hunter and I couldn't be more grateful. I'm slowly but surely working through his series. In my opinion, it's almost as interesting as the Jack Reacher series.

There's nothing wrong with getting to a point where you just know what you don't want to read. At the risk of sounding patronizing, that's just maturity.

On a very personal note, I've read SO many books and seen SO many movies, that my head is just full. I have to discriminate in order to keep sane. Because I swear if I see one more convulsive badly used filter word and in some cases, whole misused filter sentences, I'm going to scream.

I digress.

message 12: by Aaron (new)

Aaron Simmons (aaroncsimmons) | 29 comments Rarely in the real world are people obviously and easily labeled good guys or bad guys. It always comes down to context. That lady that just cut you off on the road? She's been distracted since she got that call that her father is in the emergency room, no word yet on his condition. That mean kid on the playground? Every night, he sees the way his father yells at his mother, and hits her when he's been drinking. The kid's just acting out what he experiences. Good characters, I think, offer you that quick glimpse that even the despicable things they do make sense. It doesn't make any excuses for them, but helps you understand where they're coming from.

message 13: by Ericka (new)

Ericka Scott Nelson | 35 comments I don't think stock characters or flat/static characters are by definition a symptom of bad writing. If every character were round/dynamic and received thorough development, there would be no central focus to the plot. There would be numerous sub-plots branching off and they probably wouldn't actually be sub-plots, as they'd need to all be equal weight in order to further the character's development. Also, I think texts that hinge on convoluted, intricate plots tend to have less developed characters, unless, perhaps, the character development is over a larger scope, like in a series. Personally, I would enjoy multi-dimensional, realistic, non-stock main characters, but I wouldn't necessarily expect that of minor characters (although they should be realistic too, as in, true to human nature). However, like all things I suppose it's a matter of degree. Over-reliance on stereotypical character types (with no irony) could be lazy and hence a bit boring.

message 14: by Mark (new)

Mark I agree with Ericka and I believe that Aaron highlights (unintentionally) why "stock" characters are sometimes useful. Aaron is correct that in real life people have motivations for their actions, and he gives great examples. However, writing is not real life. A story is focused on a point of view. When I'm cut off in traffic, I could imagine a reason why the person did it, but I don't know the reason. I'm much more likely to see this person as a "stock" bad person, because I don't know their story.
And that's the thing, we don't need to know everyone's story. It's not practical for a book.
Now, there are limits, of course.
A stock character can't really be a main antagonist. At least, I don't think so. Two-dimensions don't look good on a character that is central to the story. It can work for a secondary character, however.
As with everything in writing, it's all about the execution. A "stock" character can be written very poorly and drag a story down. Or, it can be written very well and lift a story and spur things on.
I look at "stock" characters almost like I do about description. After all, I'm just describing actions that suggest certain characteristics, I'm not getting into motivations.
These types of characters should be used sparingly, but (in my opinion) they do have their place.

message 15: by Courtney (new)

Courtney Wells | 1890 comments Mod
Agreed! Stock characters appearing in the background or in small doses can reinforce something about the central characters - like the are harassed at work/school or live in a backwater town - without it becoming chapters of a story expressing either point. Some books are driven by characters, others by plot and if you have 300-500 pages who do you invest in? Does everyone get hidden depths and redeeming qualities or do they hang around just long enough to make a point?

This isn't even the work of amateurs. George RR Martin's ASoIaF series has characters who are vibrant then cardboard cutouts appear to the tune of "wicked rapist henchmen" or "ser manly bluster" all to set the scene and make more developed characters look all the better/worse. Stephen King's The Mist comes to mind on how some characters are just there to make a bad situation worse with 2-D decisions.

Incidentally I loved those stories, stock characters, gimmicks and all because the big picture is worth a few cut corners imo.

message 16: by Yzabel (new)

Yzabel Ginsberg (yzabelginsberg) | 176 comments I say it depends on the character and situation.

For me, it works for minor characters and villains that aren't the main focus of the story. As others have said, developing everyone's psyche and motivations in a book can be quite daunting, both on the author and later on the reader (who has to cope with a lot of chars).

On the other hand, it doesn't work IMHO when important antagonists (or heroes) are concerned. The moustache-twirling, cardboard-cut villain gets old fast, except in humorous or other works where he's actually expected because the genre conventions said so and we're so used to them it doesn't matter anymore. The Mean Cheerleader antagonist doesn't work for me either when her sole purpose is to highlight how pure and perfect the heroine is (someday I'll have to write that post about my theory of slut shaming). And it doesn't work in character-driven stories, in which they clash with the more developed chars. Plot-driven stories leave more room, I think, for such "stock characters".

At least, that's how I feel as a reader.

message 17: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn I think that the types of characters that Courtney is describing are inevitable because aren't they indicative to life in a way?

Haven't we all had random, annoying, possibly despicable people meander in and out of lives ( a teacher, a customer, a one-time date), play a minor, albeit irksome role, then move on?

We may never know the long, sad story of how they grew to be such a miserable person or get a glimpse into the inner workings of their mind. They're in our lives , however brief and superficially, and then they're gone.

Anyway, this may be a long-winded argument of art imitating life. Be that as it may, I do think its unavoidable to include these characters in fiction when they do, in fact, exist in reality.

message 18: by Aaron (new)

Aaron Simmons (aaroncsimmons) | 29 comments It sounds like shallow characters are exactly what are needed for bit players and extras, but the main villain(s) of a book probably ought to have some depth.

As Mark and Tabitha said, you're never going to know why that person cut you off in traffic. And in a book, you really shouldn't know, either -- especially if that person only appears in the book for that single moment.

Depending on the book, you'll be spending a lot of time with the antagonist, so they're worth the investment of adding depth to them. Just like in your own life, mere acquaintances have a lot less depth than the people closest to you...not because they actually have less depth, but simply because you don't have as much exposure to it.

message 19: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 232 comments Novels have trouble enough simulating life without requiring that every character be rounded. That would really limit the cast of characters.

message 20: by Lena (new)

Lena | 187 comments Ericka wrote: "I don't think stock characters or flat/static characters are by definition a symptom of bad writing. If every character were round/dynamic and received thorough development, there would be no centr..."

exactly! If every character is fleshed out, we will never get around to the plot. Nothing happens. Sure, create entire lives for each bit character, but don't put it in the book. Especially if a group is the antagonist. Then you only want the leader and a bit about the others.

Someone mentioned 13Reasons... I don't remember the rapist guy having any redeeming qualities, or an explanation for his behavior. He was just an ass, wasn't he? (may be that I forget...haven't read it in several years, but seems to me his only point was to be an ass. Not a useless character, but not exactly well rounded either?)

message 21: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) I mentioned 13 Reasons Why. :) What's most interesting about that book, because it's only the main character listening to the audio of another character as she tells her story, a lot is left to the imagination. Apparently some people hated that book for that reason, they wanted it spelled out.

I personally very much appreciated that it wasn't spelled out. The rapist character is similar to the rapist in Speak, where he starts off as a (stero)typical guy, a bit of a bully, then gets progressively worse. So in the case of both books, it's more so about the rise and fall of specific characters, and the reader can watch it happen while knowing the reasons why. The backstory, what led up to the characters being rapists, is left to the imagination, though I felt, as I was reading, that it was easy to make educated guesses, which made the rise and fall feel well-rounded to me.

message 22: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Rand | 532 comments Personally, I think if they appear for more than a couple of pages then they should have a reasonable amount of back story in your notes, even if none of it makes it into the book. It will affect your writing and you end up putting more depth into the interactions you do write.

message 23: by Mark (new)

Mark That's a great point Virginia. Stock on the page, doesn't mean stock in your mind.

message 24: by Dina (new)

Dina Roberts Courtney wrote: Not all characters need to come in shades of grey, exude moral ambiguity or elicit a conflicted reaction from the reader - some are just there to give characters a convenient reason to talk and perpetuate conflict as the story demands.

I agree with this. For some reason the character that comes to my mind is Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter. Maybe I'm forgetting something, but I don't think she had a backstory to make her seem less awful and more sympathetic.

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