Friday, September 24, 2010

Creating Compelling Characters - The Ones You Love to Hate

For The Great Blogging Experiment, I thought I would focus my post on a character study - characters you love to hate, hate to love, but still can't get enough of. (That sort of rhymes! But not on purpose.) These characters are mean, but funny. They're jerks but they still make you swoon. This kind of dichotomy of character is one of the best ways to get something compelling, to show the deeper layers of a character and prove that there's a lot more to them than what the other characters in the book (or TV show, cause I have one of those) initially see.

1. Logan Echolls. Here's a little story about my relationship with Logan Echolls, from the absolutely brilliant show Veronica Mars. My friend Shana Silver (who hosts Veronica Mars discussions on her blog) encouraged me to watch the show, and she kept talking about how great Logan was, how he was so swoon-worthy (not to mention that Veronica Mars has killer writing and plot development). So when I saw that Veronica Mars was available to stream instantly on Netflix, I watched. I waited. I waited to like Logan. Episode after episode went by, and though I immediately saw the sheer genius in the writing, I thought Logan sucked. He was a JERK. He had few redeeming qualities and I couldn't figure out what was so great about him. Then something very specific happens in one episode, which I can't mention because I'm not the kind of girl who posts spoilers on her blog. (But it's this thing. And then this happens. Yeah.) Then I sent Shana a tweet along the lines of OMG AWESOME YOU WERE RIGHT I BOW TO YOU. (Paraphrasing there.) Anyway, Logan is an ass most of the time. Even after he softens up, he's STILL an ass. But he's so complicated and twisty and has this dark past and he gets drunk and says the world's most romantic speeches and you just can't help but love him. Even when he's being a jerk.

2. Parker Fadley: Parker is the main character in Courtney Summers' debut CRACKED UP TO BE. I think Summers is really good at writing the kind of character I'm talking about here - the mean girl that you still like. Parker is a jerk to everyone around her. She pushes everyone away, she alienates herself, she does things that she knows will hurt other people. And yet...she cracked me up. I loved Parker almost immediately because she was so funny. Yeah, she used her humor to make fun of other people, and of course that's mean...but it was true, too. And it was great. And I could see that she was tortured, too, which obviously important to the overall mystery in the book.

3. Samantha Kingston: Sam is another mean girl that I loved. In BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver, we really got to see her be mean from day 1. She and her friends rule the school with their superior attitude, and although Sam occasionally seems to feel bad about it, she shakes it off pretty quickly. But after she dies and her days start repeating, Sam starts to change. She gets angry, then she gets nicer, then she grows up. She turns into this whole other person, someone who I could actually like. So even though I don't think I could like the Samantha at the beginning of the book, I think I would probably get along with the one at the end - maybe we'd even be friends. 

4. Severus Snape. I can't talk about him without posting spoilers, so if you haven't finished the series, skip past this paragraph and get thee to a bookstore or library. I don't think there can possibly be a more perfect "love to hate" character in children's literature. I mostly just love Snape. But there is no question that he's a creepster. He's a jerk to the kids. Repeatedly. He openly displays favoritism to people in his house. He's mysterious and sneaky and he starts out as a bad guy. He betrays the Potters! He betrays Lily, the love of his life! But as soon as he realizes what he's done, he dedicates his life to fixing it. He worked so great as a character because we were all constantly questioning his motives - which side was he on? Who was he working for? I was a firm believer in Snape's innocence the whole time. But I had many friends who believed otherwise, especially after the whole killing Dumbledore thing. He sparked discussion and debate and loyalty. He was mean on the outside but in his heart, he was soft and did it all for love. He is a compelling character if ever one existed.

So, in all of these mean-girl (and boy) characters, what are the common threads that make them compelling? Growth. Humor. Mystery. Weakness. A complicated past. That's what it takes to create compelling characters.

Who are your favorite love-to-hate characters, and what is it about them that makes them so compelling?


  1. OMG, this list was meant for my eyes!!!

    I just finished season one of Veronica Mars, and I still h-a-t-e Logan. I/m confident I'll end up loving him by the time I finish the show :)

    Love Sam Kingston and Snape, too. Haven't read Courtney's book yet, but it's on my radar.

    Great post!

  2. It never dawned on me that Snape did it all for Lily...but I like it. This post was a nice twist on compelling characters re: the ones you love, vs. the ones you love to hate. Good job.

  3. Great analysis, Heather, of what can make antagonist and anti-hero characters work well.

  4. I LOVED Parker from day one. She's one of my favorite protagonists in the YA world. Her sharp sense of humor drew me to her. I saw the cracks in her facade and I couldn't help but feel for her.

    I have Before I Fall on TBR list and I'm excited about reading it.

    I thought Ben Linus from Lost was a compelling character. He was so good at being creepy and bad. That was largely due to Michael Emerson's brillant acting. Then as seasons went by, we got to see little chinks. Don't get me wrong, he still had shady moments but by the end, I was quite pleased with what happened with his character.

  5. I was wandering around looking at the other participants in the blog experiment and wow! You had me at Logan Echolls. And yes, I followed the links... and swooned again. :)

    You are so right about how he was lovable even while he tripped over the line between right and wrong repeatedly. Great post!

  6. You nailed all my favorite "love to hate" characters. I need to add Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Nathan Scott from One Tree Hill, though.

    I hated Nathan in Ssn 1 of OTH, but then I ended up loving his character - just like Logan!

    Spike probably has the best character arc of any TV show character I've ever seen. Yeah, I went there. :) Trust Shana again! Watch the show!

  7. Severus Snape! I've visited several blogs today for this wonderful experiment and you are the first one (that I've come across) to include the following characters!

    I love Severus Snape and his character, even though he was a 'villian' he was also one you felt connected with, held a place in your heart because you knew it must have been hard to have loved someone who didn't love you. That's not easy to handle!

    Thanks for participating in the blog experiment!

  8. Great post! I need to watch Veronica Mar!

  9. I love these examples! I loved Before I Fall, but it did take me a while to like the character. She's so complex, and she fights against herself. Which is what made me love her. Great post!

  10. Nice work! I liked all the examples too.
    And when we have the same first name, I can't help but like what you write. :)

  11. Characters with layers are the kind I drool over:)

    Great examples. I never watched Veronica Mars but now my interest is piqued.

  12. I was the same with Logan and parker....yeah, she is a girl I loved even though I knew I should hate her.

    Severus Snape..... Gosh, love this guy to the bottom of my heart. I'm actually thinking about doing a post specifically on why ( a reader challenged me to do so after I told her he was my favorite character in fiction on her blog post today)

    Great post.

  13. I really enjoyed your post, learned a lot here today.

    Enjoy your week-end.

  14. OMG, watching those Veronica Mars clips made me all swoony inside! I love Logan SFM. (

    And I LOVE the bitchy characters like Parker and Sam. I feel like one of the only people who loved Sam from minute one. I thought she was awesome.

    And this thing about Snape reminded me of a conversation I had last night with someone who is reading HP for the first time. I think I'll e-mail it to you just to avoid spoilers for any unsuspecting readers.

  15. I want to have Logan Echolls's babies.

  16. I can't think of any characters I hate...I don't really like how the narrator of THE BOOK THEIF is Death. It took me about 45 pages before I started enjoying the book...I knew it had to get better because of all the hype, but I really struggled with it at first...I still don't care for Death, but I don't hate him....

  17. Ooh, questioning their motives... Cool point!!!

  18. I've always kind of had a soft spot for Snape, too! You kind of get why he hates Harry (the boy is a constant reminder of everything he lost for himself), not that that means he's not a jerk most of the time. When Harry named his son after Snape, I totally teared. If Harry can forgive Snape, certainly we all can!

  19. Love Snape!Great examples - wonderful post. I enjoyed it.

  20. I'm reading Before I Fall right now. I didn't like Sam at first, and now I'm starting to as I get closer to the end.

  21. I just started watching Veronica Mars b/c of some recs I got on twitter, and I'm ridiculously addicted now. Great post.


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