21 August 2012

I don't like you anymore - when a character changes


I'm a reader who normally has to like the main characters of a book in order to enjoy reading it. In some rare cases I'm ok with not liking the main characters, but this is indeed very rare. So me liking a main character is essential for my reading experience. And maybe that's why I get very annoyed and frustrated when a beloved character is changed into a person I no longer like. This can happened throughout one book, at the beginning I may love a character and then he will change so much that I no longer like him. Or it can happen throughout a series. Either in a series in which the main characters are the same in each book, or in a series (mostly romances) in which each book has a different set of main characters and the main characters from the previous book become minor characters in the new one.

In the last months there were two series that I initially liked because of the great main characters, but then started to dislike because they changed so much. One series was a fantasy trilogy, the other an ongoing romance series. At first the characters in the books were strong, honest and nice, but then throughout the series they became week and started to act like jerks. In both cases I was shocked. Don't get me wrong, I like it when a character goes through little changes, when a character gets the change to evolve. But when a character changes so much that he is like a persiflage of his former self, then I can no longer enjoy the book or series.

People don't really change so much. We mostly change little things about who we are, about how we act. But drastic changes don't happen so often and especially not without something special happening to make us change. In both series nothing dramatic or serious had happened to the characters and yet they changed into completely different persons. And I don't understand why that had to happen.

I think that a great author never forgets who the characters are in their core. They know how the characters act, they know which changes in personality will fit to them. A great author doesn't take the easy way of changing a characters personality completely to create some easy drama or to make a new storyline work. Both are shortcuts that shouldn't happen in a story. A character's personality shouldn't be sacrificed to make a book more exciting or to make a new storyline work. I want authors to stay true to their characters and to respect them enough to let them stay who they are.

If you have read so far you now know that I'm slightly obsessed by this topic. In the last months I have thought a lot about it and the two series that provoked this way of thinking. I often care deeply about characters and that's why I don't like them being misused by their creators. And I maybe think too much about books in general, but that's who I am. :)

Have you ever experienced something similar? Do you get annoyed when a character changes too much without a logical reason? Or are you more relaxed about it than I am?

14 comments:

  1. Right now I can't really think of a character changing for the worse, but I get what you are saying.
    On the other hand I read a series (it's a favorite of mine) where every book gets different main characters, but all the former protagonists still play a mayor role. In this case there was this secondary character who came across as very guarded, almost emotionless, but with potential to become a great hero. But once his own story was told he completely changed. You could see that the author was still trying to show his darker side, but he basically became this "nice" guy and I just couldn't understand it. I was actually a bit annoyed because the author didn't make it believable for me. To me it seemed as if she wasn't up for the challenge of a really dark hero showing feelings for his heroine, but staying true to himself.

    So I can understand what you mean, even though my own experience with this was slightly different. Character developments have to be subtle and realistic, otherwise why bother using the same person again? If you change him/her so much that the reader doesn't recognize him/her anymore you may as well choose someone else as a main character.

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    1. The situation you described is IMO just as "bad" as the one I did. I always have issues when a character changes too much without any logical explanation. And YES! YES! YES! to your last sentences.

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  2. I guess Anita Blake is a prime example for that, the character changed so much from the first books that, for me, the series became unreadable. And then there's Lauren Oliver's "before I fall" where I just couldn't buy into the lead character's change for the better - but then again, that character did never quite ring true to me from the very start.
    (Disclaimer: I'm not saying that Anita rang true for me, in a real life sense, either, it's just that she did fit in the world Hamilton set-up for her, as opposed to Oliver's character in her setting, IMO)

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    1. It's so annoying when you can't believe in the changes of a character. I can totally understand that you had to stop with the series because of it. It would be the same for me.

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  3. I can think of some charachters that to change. I understand that they need to grow and change but sometimes it seems that they get more stupid. I have been reading this series and because the plot or pacing was off. It ruined the story and I could guess what was going to happen. Granted the author wants to challenge her people, but at the cost of losing readers. I am this close to cutting ties with a series :(

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    1. That sucks, but I can understand your feelings. Sometimes you don't want to be challenged by the author, you just want to read a good story with characters who stay true to themselves.

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  4. Oh, absolutely. And this can often be a deal breaker. This character you've spent so much time with and cared about for so long does something out of character and it's incredibly hard to swallow or even come back from.

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    1. Exactly! Sometimes all the love for a character and a series can go away because of it. It's sad, but it happens.

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  5. I'm very character driven. If I don't like the main characters, I have a really hard time getting through the book no matter how well-written it is. I love to see characters grow throughout a series, but growth and change are two different things and I think that's where some authors go wrong. You are right, people don't tend to change their basic nature, but they certainly can learn from their experiences. For me, the dealbreaker is usually characters that never seem to grow from book to book. Those are the series that I end up dropping.

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    1. True, no growth in a characters can also be frustrating. But like you said, growth and change are two very different things.

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  6. I'm also a character driven reader. If I don't like the main characters a book has to show a lot of other skills to get me: e.g. has to be exellent written, has to show (black) humour and must have an thrilling plot.
    And yes, characters should grow, learn and develop but don't become characters the reader doesn't recognize anymore.

    May I ask, because I'm to curious: Which fantasy trilogy do you talk about?

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    1. Every book should have some black humour. :)
      The trilogy was the Beka Cooper series. I LOVED the first book and especially Beka, the main character. But the changes in her peronality, especially in the third book, were too much for me.

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    2. Thx, but now I'm sad. Normally I love Tamora Pierce's writing and it's no fun to see/read that one of her heroines changes her personality so much. But I'll give the series a try.

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    3. Yes, definitely give it a try. I know a lot of people who loved the series and I had so far always trouble with the main characters in the series by Tamora Pierce. So I may be in the minority of the people who had issues with Beka's changes.

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