Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Relatable Characters: Melancholia and Justine or California Girl Chronicles and Brea

The discussion about the likable or unlikable character sparked some responses on Tumblr particularly in reference to Justine in the movie Melancholia (Justine suffered severe depression and as a result did some pretty unlikable things). I was considering the discussion that suggested that her depression and behavior should be understandable since she was sick. I guess the discussion (for me) needed to veer toward whether or not you can relate to a character enough to sympathize with him or her. In Justine's case, I could not relate to her enough to understand what I felt was "unlikable" behavior. When I was younger I had my own bout with depression (certainly not as severe as Justine's case) but even while I spent a number of days crawled up in bed, I didn't do things to hurt others or lash out in passive-aggressive ways (e.g., her sex on the golf-course moment). Hence, I could not relate to her. Watching her behavior was more like watching someone through a lens albeit a camera lens and feeling more like a spectator. In other words, I didn't feel a part of the film. Really great movies do draw you in so you lose yourself. When you can't find a touchstone in a character then you're more likely to sit like I just describe and feel like a spectator.

Now let's compare that to my character Brea in California Girl Chronicles. When I wrote Brea, I wrote her as a misguided but fun young woman. What I did not expect was the number of older women who would later tell me how much they related to Brea (the younger gals I expected them to relate better). I never considered that the reader's ability to relate to her misguided behavior would generate fans. I sat with one such fan the other day who told me she went through so many of the same adventures in her younger days. She understood Brea's behavior. She saw it as much more than lust. I've had some reviewers only see it as lust. I won't deny Brea is a lustful young woman, but she is deeply conflicted and really wants love (don't we all). Her actions, while questionable, never come from a hardened place of malice or spite. She does things out of her desire for love, and she deeply regrets her mistakes nearly the minute she makes them. If she had come from a purely selfish place, readers would lose their abilities to relate, and hence, like her. You cannot have a heroine expected to carry a book series do unlikeable things, because over time the fans will not like her and lose interest and rooting value in her journey.

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