Struggling With Modern Literature

“Personal cynicism, disillusionment and bitterness.” This is a sentence I found describing the thrust of modern literature. If true, it describes why I don’t read much of it. A Twitter friend told me that he doesn’t believe that real life has arcs. I disagreed, saying my own life has had plenty of arcs, a lot of them resolved in an unsatisfactory way. This is my reason for avoiding cynical, disillusioned, and bitter fiction. Since I worked so hard to not give in to feelings of despair, it’s unlikely I should find them entertaining even in fiction form. Thus, I find my reading solace primarily in genre fiction.

Recently, someone wrote about how genre fiction remains popular. It’s always around and probably always will be. It isn’t out of the ordinary, which is why it isn’t very appreciated by critics. This may be true. In which case, we genre writers may be like male Bower Birds, each trying to make our niche nests a little more inviting to potential readers, decorating and rearranging our prose into something pleasing to ourselves. We reveal ourselves in our individual glory and hope that others find us attractive. We are dismayed when a flashier bird gets the attention.

But do we have any intention of trying to be that flashier bird? Don’t think so.

Some of us write to entertain. Some of us write to answer our own questions. Some of us write to find out what we know. There are other reasons and combinations of reason. One thing that unites us is that we find genre writing pleasurable.

Come to the genre side – it’s fun here.

What Makes a Character Worth Liking?

I’ve just started corresponding with my #LitChat friend @Mamafog (also known as Karen) about what makes a fictional character likable. In particular, she asks what makes a character likable for me?

As seen previously in this space, I’ve been giving my reading some thought, finding more and more of the novels recommended to me by others as not enjoyable or just okay. Where I used to devour anything readable – including the backs of cereal boxes when I was out of books – I now have to make time to read, so naturally resent spending time on books I don’t like. And, generally speaking, I don’t like books where I don’t like the main characters.

What Makes a Character Worth Liking?

  • I guess, first of all, I have to be able to see myself, at least a little, in him or her. Someone completely different will make it hard for me to identify with them as they struggle with their challenges. This isn’t usually a problem, since all of us share some traits.
  • S/he has to have a decent code of ethics at core. Just the basics – not killing people for fun or wanting to have ultimate power, that kind of thing.
  • S/he has to be self-aware. There’s no point in seeing how a character grows if s/he remains blissfully ignorant of the changes s/he’s gone through.
  • I like a sense of humour. It can be dark, sarcastic, self-deprecating, or just wacky. Humour helps us recognize ourselves and frame a situation. What makes you laugh helps define you. And if you have no sense of humour, that might be funny in itself.
  • With secondary characters, I prefer they not be there just to serve as cannon fodder or to scream on cue. Even if they won’t be around long enough for me to learn much about them, I like it when I feel they are as much people as the main characters.

That’s the short list for me. I’m sure that continuing to think about it will bring other things to light, like why some books I enjoyed even though I didn’t like the characters. And what part narrative plays in helping me decide whether a book and its characters are good or not*.

Got your own list  of what makes you like a character or not?  Let’s talk about it.

* ‘Good’ being a term relative to our individual interpretations, of course.