Sunday, September 16, 2012

Likable characters?


  Do stories need likable characters? I'd like to read your opinion on this. I don't believe that likable characters are necessary to make a story captivating, entertaining and interesting. Stories do, however, need realistic characters. Their actions have to resonate.
 The likability of a character is also subjective. Some characters may be intriguing, daring and charismatic to some readers, whereas others may find the same characters unlikable.
 Some readers tend to prefer stories with characters they can identify with. Perhaps, the main achievement of a story lies around characters who can stir strong emotions. Characters can touch you; they can upset you, or they can inspire you. Unlikable characters have a role. They can help you see a reality that may be unpleasant.
  You probably judge the characters of the stories you read from your own unique perspective.Overall, I don't think realistic characters have to be likable. After reading thousands of stories, I can say that those that attract me the most have complexity, whatever that means. I may feel intrigued by their heroic or their revolting behaviors. They will make me ponder over it even after I finish the story.  In many cases, they will encourage me to jot down notes and I feel the urge to share my thoughts about them. If  I feel the character is similar to me in some ways, I want to know how she (or he) will react to the different situations she encounters . If the character is very different from me, I am intrigued to understand them better.
  In the short story " A Romantic Weekend" by Mary Gaitskill the male character is a married man, a sadist, who meets a new lover. The woman considers herself a masochist, and so they believe they are a good match. Yet you can see that both characters have different expectations when they spend a weekend together. The weekend  is not romantic at all; it is disturbing. She believes she is in love with him, and probably expects some kind of "erotic" behavior from him as a sign of his love. The reader can't stop wondering what will happen next, and how they put up with each other. Gaitskill keeps the tension strong throughout it by unleashing their dark sides and contradictions. Another interesting aspect of this disturbing story is that the writer alternates both points of view: The woman's and the man's, so we are inside their minds; it's a kind of stream of consciousness technique. I enjoyed this story, but the characters are  not likable at all. Mind you, Mary Gaitskill, a feminist, does a good job in shocking the reader for a good reason, in a subtle way.
 In James Joyce's short story "Counterparts" (Dubliners) the main characters are despicable. Vladimir Nabokov's Humbert Humbert is a perverse, cruel man. The novel, "Lolita", is the account of a pedophile. Yet it turned  into a literary classic that most people enjoy reading.
 Patricia Highsmith wrote many stories with unlikable characters and some critics believe that this is one of the reasons why her work was not popular in the United States.
 Stories with unlikable characters reveal dark situations or secrets that need to be told.

What do you think about the likability of characters in the stories? Do you have a preference when you read or write a story?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"A confrontation with the unconscious"

 Carl Jung never had the confidence to publish The Red Book during his life, so he kept it hidden. Liber Novus (The Red Book) did not see the light of publication until 2009.
 The Red Book is an exploration of the unconscious of a man who dared to expose the intimate fabric of his thoughts, emotions and fantasies. As a result of this journey through the unconscious, Carl Gustav Jung  created unconventional characters, beautiful scenes and dialogues that reflect on different subjects.Aside from profound reflections, an important feat of this book is the potential to open your mind and fuel your imagination. You may find that some parts are incomprehensible, but the wisdom and the inspiring musings compensate for that lack of clarity.
  The book also includes illustrations-mandalas- made by Carl Jung (1875-1961). These mandalas are circular drawings  that, according to Jung, expressed his inner situation and allowed him to observe his psychic transformations. The symmetry of the figures that he created may have been related to his search for inner peace amid his emotional turmoil. .
 This is a book that delves into universal subjects: the balance between solitude and being in good social terms; the desire and the quest to develop our own inner life; the social forces that are in conflict with our own motivations; dreams and their significance. Jung opens up a vast universe of thoughts and ideas. The beauty of the images, and the richness of the metaphors and symbols contribute to a delightful read of exquisite literary value. You need to read it with an open mind, albeit some of the reflections will be welcomed by a pragmatic one as well.
 Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this book is that much of its content has relevance today, almost one hundred years after it was written, a sign that human nature continues to struggle with the same dilemmas.
 I believe that this book is a testimony of Carl Jung's open minded approach to psychology. This openness  allowed him to create new paths and ideas in the development of psychoanalysis. Jung was a pioneer in the analysis and interpretation of dreams as a way to reveal the unconscious mind. He also developed the idea of the collective unconscious, archetypes and synchronicity.
 To finish this post I will share this link that has some of his inspiring, thought-provoking quotes.