Friday, May 16, 2008

Unlikeable characters

part five (lol)

Unhingey asked me how I could start with two unlikeable characters. Cowboy asked me that too. lol, they'll change in revisions. Not to be all sickly-sweet or anything, but it's just a starting point.

A good example is Carrol O Connell's Mallory series, which, buy in hardback the day it comes out. Mallory is probably the most unsympathetic character I've ever read. Cold, unfeeling, sociopathic--and built that way. However, because of O Connell's great writing Mallory is like an onion. Each book peels a little more skin back, not in a way that doesn't sync but in little dribbles of back story--a sentence here, a paragraph there. Sometimes, Mallory starts an action that lets you see she's trying to be normal, she knows something is wrong with her because she's ferociously intelligent, but having had no role model, she doesn't know how to connect.

A self-aware sociopath.

In the last few books, Mallory has started to crack. Enough emotion has rubbed off, because she's with friends who love and care for her. In Winter House, when Red Winter dies, Mallory has socialized enough to get angry at something that she now views as wrong. She's internalized a personal code.

That whole book sticks in my mind, but the part that sticks the most is when Mallory looks away so no one will see her face and says, "It was wrong."

I guess DG is my version of the Mallory stories done on fast forward.

The only way to make Connor and Jacey easier to swallow is to show the glimmers of change right up front--sure, Connor is a jerk. But when he discovers Jacey doesn't want him, it makes him "look" at her. It's the first time a woman hasn't tried to get with him, it makes her different. Like when you meet someone you'll one day be great friends with--sometimes you don't click, sometimes there's this period of feeling the other person out. That way, when I bring in the change later, maybe they'll have started to talk--hell, in the dark at opposite sides of a room, or during a lull. Like...friends.


Alice Audrey said...

That glimmer of something more can make a huge difference in the way the front of the book reads.

jodi said...

lol, yeah--it should. I spent a large portion of last night layering subtext into the beginning. I dunno, I'll have to wait and see if it works with the rest of the book or not, but it..seems ok. :)

Unhinged said...

Oh. I love the idea. I've never read O Connell, but I really like how you've written about her here. I love intense, complicated characters.

And...I know you wouldn't begin a story with two unlikeable characters--that you were just sharing thoughts, but I was definitely interested to have you clarify. You're so good at that, lol! The depth of your posts, woman...I swear, if I smoked, I'd want a cigarette.

You do understand people.

jodi said...

...actually (lol...I said "actually" *snicker*) I'm going to start school again. I think they call it "re-training". It's all on-line through the community college, but I want to major in behavioral psychology. A couple classes each year--might take awhile, but I have time.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

OMG! I Love Love Love Mallory.
Let me say the Mallory mysteries have one thing that totally saves that "self aware sociopath" from being too unsympathetic.
Her secondary characters.
The bitter cop with a gooey center.
The weird outcast with a goofy grin but such a sweet beautiful soul.
They're a foil, a contrast and yet, they also bring out the parts of Mallory that are wonderful.
I love those books.

jodi said...

I do too. She's such a great writer, I'm still in suspended disbelief each and every time