Saturday, October 23, 2010

Deviant Characters

I've been teaching Orson Scott Card's craft book Characters & Viewpoint in my Creative Writing Topics course this semester. It's a rather helpful book on craft (a rarity, if I do say so myself) because it is clearly-written and full of practical advice. Card doesn't use his book to show off his literary zeal, but rather poses his theories on writing in a very digestible manner. In one section, he speaks to the necessity of making a character believable and likable. In a way, this is necessary to all genres. After all, in nonfiction and poetry, the authorial voice or narrator must be just as likable or seductive as the protagonist in a good short story.

I'm curious, however, how this pertains to the social deviants we find in literature. The people who we follow into story, but would never want to meet in real life.

One famous example is Humbert Humbert from Nabokov's Lolita. This book is controversial because the writer, many claim, was making his deviant character too likable. Readers didn't want to relate to this guy, and yet there was something very human about him--he wasn't a two-dimensional character. People either love or hate this book, but very few people have criticized the writer's ability to craft remarkable prose, and to translate a powerful message.

To me, the challenge of making a character like this one that will translate well on the page is raising the stakes for the writer. I think it adds an additional challenge, but if done well the prose will have something even more powerful than just a character we can relate to as readers, it will portray a genuine glimpse into another's world, albeit fiction. Any thoughts?

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