Friday, October 10, 2008

The Character Was Being Passive

One of my biggest peeves in novels, and one of the most common, is when I don't have a vested interest in the main characters. It means I don't care about what happens to them. I checked out A Curse as Dark as Gold last week and let me tell you, this is one exquisite piece of literature. The writing is beyond superb. But I didn't finish the book because I didn't care enough about what happened to Charlotte. She was so stoic, strong and impervious to Wheeler's bad dealings. I'd rather see the story from Rosie's perspective, because she was superstitious and fun.
Another book this week, Good Girls, had the same problem. It's the story of what happens when a compromising photograph of an honor student is spread around the school. Fantastic premise. But I found Ashley, however realistic, slow and depressing and not inviting. I didn't finish that one either, because it didn't matter to me whether she fixed it or not.
Although annoying or mean characters tick me off, I hate passive main characters most of all. That is: characters to whom things happen, rather than characters that cause things to happen. Briony, in Atonement, is one heck of an unlikeable person but she makes things happen. Holden, well, Holden Caulfield was produced by a genius pen. If you're writing a book about the circus, should you write it about the BFF of the ringmaster or the ringmaster him/herself?
The best example, as always, is Frankie Landau-Banks from E. Lockhart's March 2008 book. Frankie starts out as a "normal," intelligent girl with one ex-boyfriend. We can all relate. But as the book goes on, Frankie changes into someone who makes big things happen and pays the price for it. Gretchen Yee, in Fly on the Wall, goes on a similar transformation. I think of Maddie in Lauren Myracle's sharp and brilliant TTYL (more on that later), Jerome Foxworthy in The Moves Make the Man, Riley in This Book Isn't Fat, It's Fabulous.
I have hated Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen the movie like no other movie. It redefined stupid. But Mary/Lola made things happen, as much as you hated her. That's an effective protagonist.


Lenore Appelhans said...

Ah yes, this was my main problem with the protagonist of Katherine Neville's The Fire (which I reviewed not too long ago on my blog). She just let everyone drag her everywhere and never did a thing for herself.

I can't imagine putting down A Curse Dark as Gold though!

Gabrielle said...

It's funny, Lenore, because I really expected to like "Curse," but for me it was too slow and then there was the not-identifying-with-Charlotte problem. I would have liked it if the story had started more quickly (i.e., with Jack Spinner showing up in the first few chapters) instead of taking almost a quarter of the novel to begin.

Then again, maybe I'm losing all touch with grand literature and have been reading too much pop fiction.

Anonymous said...

True. Too true. I've often come across the same problem in my reading, I just never could pinpoint out the perfect word. ;)

P.S. Thanks for nominating me!

Anonymous said...

Agreed, when the character sits around and does nothing it really bugs me!