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I've been in a very meta mood lately. And thinking about character love and character hate and the like/dislike in between has illuminated a general writing/storytelling principle for me, one that I think TV shows might ignore or mistake at times, and one that needs close attention paid, because I think writers (professionals as much as amateurs) sometimes confuse it:

"Everybody likes a character" is not a way to make that character be liked by the audience.

The key is - it's not a way to make that character be disliked, either. It's actually an emphasizing storytelling device, reinforcing the feelings the audience already has, but it's often mistaken for a positive or a negative one.

"Everybody likes a character" is a classic trope that takes different forms. I'm thinking of it as when the main theme, the point of the plot, is to show how much a character is liked/loved, by having all the other characters express their love through words or deeds. The damsel in distress is a classic example: the damsel's in trouble, everyone frets and rushes to save her, because they adore her so. Most h/c is some variation on this theme. You sometimes get episodes of a TV show that are "everybody likes a character" eps. In SGA I think Rodney has gotten the most of these - "Tao of Rodney" and "The Shrine" are all about how much everyone loves and appreciates Rodney.

It's not a coincidence that those are two of my favorite episodes of the show. Because Rodney is my favorite character - I enjoy watching the other characters love him as much as I do.

The trick is - and here's where writers get confused - those episodes are not why I love Rodney. I loved Rodney already; those episodes simply reinforced my love for him.

Fans who don't like Rodney do not like those episodes, I've noticed. They get annoyed that Rodney's getting screentime instead of their favorite characters - they also, I believe, get annoyed watching their favorites love a character they don't love. Anytime a favorite character thinks or feels or does something you disagree with, it causes cognitive dissonance. So you tend to either ignore the cause, forget the episode happened; or you find a way to explain it - Sheppard's a good team leader, it's not that he loves Rodney, it's just that he's responsible for him. (While all of us Rodney fans gawk in uncomprehending disbelief at such rationalizing, since one of the reasons we love Sheppard is because he loves Rodney!)

If you're neutral about a character, "everybody likes the char" tends to leave you cold - it doesn't cause that negative dissonance, but it leaves you a bit confused - you aren't that worried for the character, so it's hard to sympathize with the concern of the characters you do like. Additionally, "everybody likes the char" plots often don't show the beloved char themselves in the best light - they're helpless, in need of rescue; they're not being the heroes. It's not a character's best side, usually.

If you already like the character, that's not a problem. When you like a character, you sympathize with them. Helplessness is more a neutral trait than a negative one; unless you already view the character in a negative light, seeing a character helpless probably won't make you like them any less. But it won't make you like them any more, either. So an "everybody likes a character" episode for a character you're neutral about will wind up being uninteresting to you - will be boring. And any character that bores you, you start to dislike.

This is one of the major problem with Mary Sues - Mary Sue stories are one long "everybody loves Mary Sue" romp, and with a dearth of other reasons to like Mary Sue, the audience gets bored, gets resentful of being made bored, and starts to dislike Mary Sue. While as if you like the so-called Mary Sue for some reason or other - because you're the writer and she's you, or the girl of your dreams; because she reminds you of yourself; because she's pretty or funny or whatever - then you'll like the story, and will disagree that the character is a Mary Sue (since part of the definition of Mary Sue these days seems to be that the audience doesn't like them.)

This is also why h/c stories don't often work as well right out of the gate, why intensive h/c is more enjoyable with established characters. Hurt/comfort won't make you like a character, it only reinforces your feelings about a character. You have to like them for some other reason first.
TV screenwriters mix this up sometimes. The reason is because, if a character is liked, "everybody loves the char" episodes will be hugely popular. Rodney has many fans, and most Rodney fans love "everybody loves Rodney" episodes. Rodney's the biggest damsel in distress of the show, and a lot of us love that - but it's not why we love him (rather, it's why we like the show, for catering to our Rodney-love. But the Rodney-love originated somewhere else, I believe.)

But it's easy to mistake the direction of causation. So, realizing that many fans didn't especially like Keller, the SGA writers tried to do "everybody likes Keller" with "The Seed", hoping to work the same magic as with Rodney - except it backfired, because if you don't like a character, "everybody likes that character" will just reinforce your dislike of that character. Those people who do like Keller will enjoy it (well, maybe not "The Seed," because it was a problematic episode on multiple levels) - but it won't do anything to change the mind of fans who don't; it'll just make them feel more negative. "Why does she get all the love? She doesn't deserve it!"

I think this might be why many fans who were fairly neutral about Keller last season are finding themselves disliking her more this season. The "everybody likes Keller" vibe of some of the episodes is grating on us, pushing a mild disinterest/dislike into increasingly negative response. (I wonder if it would've been wiser on the writers' part to flip it around - in "Trio" Keller was liking Rodney more than vice versa, and even Rodney fans who don't like Keller can respond to that - of course she likes Rodney, don't we all! And we all like to see Rodney being liked. Now the storyline is more focused on Rodney's like for Keller than Keller's like for Rodney, and that's not as appealing to the majority of fans.)

(Interestingly, I think there might be an odd corollary, that "everybody hates a character" works the same way, reinforcing the audience in either direction - if you already dislike the character, you'll just dislike them more; but if you like them, even mildly, and you see them being hated on, you'll start to like them more - you'll feel sorry for them, want to defend them; and often you'll start to dislike the characters who are hating on them. Smallville's Lex gained quite a few fans thanks to this perverse principle.)

"Everybody loves a character" is a great plot device (hey, I'm an h/c fan, it's one of my very favorites!) But it has to be used carefully, especially when you're writing a TV show to a broad audience, as opposed to a fanfic targeted to specific fans. For it to be effective, you have to pay attention to the audiences' tastes, and write accordingly.

Comments

( 74 comments — Leave a comment )
enderwiggin24
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:04 pm (UTC)
Smallville's Lex gained quite a few fans thanks to this principle, I think

I absolutely agree. Its like, they have spend time building up the context and his background (abusive father, insane mother, fucked up childhood, lying friends etc, victim of alien possession etc..) and then vilifying him?? by making him err kind of marrying the girlfriend of the hero, ambiguous experiments on mutants, working with the government etc??maybe out of power and greed, or just out of need for protection of humanity? or both?

ops, sorry script writers, that's ain't not working with rabbid fangirls XD
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, making you feel sorry for a character, and then trying to make you dislike him by having everyone else dislike him is the wrong way to go about it - you just make us feel even sorrier for him! If everyone loved Lex, and it was clear he was manipulating their emotions, using their love to commit evil, we'd like him a lot less ...Well, we might like him as a character, because such master manipulators can be cool. We liked Lionel for that! But we wouldn't think he was a good guy. But as the writing is, we practically had no choice but to like Lex, even to the point of siding with him in evil! (writing mistakes are always interesting to examine - why people dislike a character who's supposed to be liked, but also why do people like a character who's supposed to be disliked!)
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nenya85
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:13 pm (UTC)
Really good points! I’m definitely like that, especially in terms of liking a character more if I think the other characters are being unjust/hating/misunderstanding him (because, let’s face it, with me it’s always a “him”.) Like on “Charmed” I liked Cole a lot, but one of the things that really got to me was how often Prue, and later Paige just never gave him credit for trying to change. I mean sure he was a demon who occasionally drew fireballs, but give the guy a break… he actually was trying. Of course with “Charmed” part of the equation was that the actor decided to leave, so after 3 years of establishing that Cole would do anything, up to and including giving up his powers for Phoebe, all of a sudden everyone was talking about how they’d never really loved each other – and that made me an even bigger Cole fan than before – not that I ever could resist a half-demon who was trying for a bit of salvation and love. (God, is my taste in fictional men abysmal!)

And I agree that if you don't love or eve like a character, the more the show harps on how great they are, the more I feel like the writers/director are trying to maipulate me into liking them too. It sort of brings out the oppositional part of me (which rarely needs much encouragement to join the party.) The same thing is happening, of course, with characters I like, but then I don't feel manipulated, because the producers are giving me exactly what I want more of.

And when I read fanfic (or real fic for that matter) while I know intellectually that it’s probably not a sign of good writing if everyone’s thoughts revolve around my favorite character – I have to admit, I don’t mind it a bit. After all, obsession loves company.
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:22 pm (UTC)
(because, let’s face it, with me it’s always a “him”.

I wonder if this is partly because female characters are much more prone to "everybody loves them" than males. There are very few male characters who are universally loved that I can think of, but quite a few females who no one can hate. (Which is sexist and unrealistic, because in reality no one is loved by everyone, even the hottest girl going. But I think male writers especially have a tendency to put female characters on a pedestal; they don't want to acknowledge their flaws.)

The same thing is happening, of course, with characters I like, but then I don't feel manipulated, because the producers are giving me exactly what I want more of.

Yes, exactly. The producers are working with us & our tastes, not against them...

I know intellectually that it’s probably not a sign of good writing if everyone’s thoughts revolve around my favorite character – I have to admit, I don’t mind it a bit. After all, obsession loves company.

See, I don't even think it's really that bad writing if everyone's thoughts revolve around your favorite - it's entertaining to read if you like that character enough (in some series, it's all I want to read - in YGO, if one or the other Kaiba brother's not involved somewhere, I'm just not interested! XP) It's that with original fic especially, f you're going to write it like that, you better make extra sure that the favorite character is appealing to a lot of people. Some people will still get annoyed (you can't please all the fans all the time) but if the majority of people have the same favorite, then the majority will like a story revolving around them. But you can't center a story around an unlikable or boring character and expect everyone to enjoy it...
lysambre
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC)
Once again, great meta, and a perfect reflection of my thoughts.

I used to be indifferent to Keller, now I find myself wishing she would just die of an exploding tumor or something, and that's definitely not usual for me while watching a tv show. I'm usually more of a "to each their own", and was in fact like this for the past 4 seasons of SGA.
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah - the thing is with Keller, I think when we examine her closely we can find a lot of faults, but all the chars have such faults. We just don't examine them closely enough to see them (or write them off when we do notice them.) While as with Keller, since we don't like her, we're picking on her.

And I think there's several reasons why we don't like her to begin with, but I do think the romance is a major factor for a lot of fans - we don't like it: we don't like how it's being written, we don't like how it's interfering with our OTPs, we're bored with it, etc. That's tipping us from neutrality into outright dislike, and that's why we're looking for reasons to dislike her. And when we look, they're there, because the writing's just not that good...
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darlulu
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:21 pm (UTC)
Interestingly, I think there might be an odd corollary, that "everybody hates a character" works the same way, reinforcing the audience in either direction - if you already dislike the character, you'll just dislike them more; but if you like them, even mildly, and you see them being hated on, you'll start to like them more - you'll feel sorry for them, want to defend them; and often you'll start to dislike the characters who are hating on them.

Having everybody hate a character is actually the quickest way to securing my loyalty for said disliked character. I always root for the underdog (provided their unpopularity isn't due to any malice or y'know out and out evilness on their part).

Part of my love for Rodney actually stems from the less-than-kind treatment his character received in the earlier seasons. Not that I've ever thought Rodney was some delicate flower or anything, but I always thought there was a huge difference between Rodney's bouts of obnoxious arrogance which all the characters routinely call him on and the collective group's occasional snide remarks/eye rolling/mocking of Rodney that's directed in such a way that the viewer is invited to laugh along with the 'cool kids' at Rodney's expense.

As for everybody loves so and so eps, they generally make me like the character less even if I loved them to begin with. A good example of this is when I started watching Gilmore Girls. The daughter, Rory, in the show was my favorite character in the first season, but as the series progressed, I ended up liking her less and less as every single character around her began/continued to worship her and without any good reason that I could see. Rodney's kind of the exception to this rule (I love Tao of Rodney and The Shrine) and I think it's because for the 10% of time where he's genuinely beloved in canon, it's followed by 90% of him being grudgingly tolerated.
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:35 pm (UTC)
Having everybody hate a character is actually the quickest way to securing my loyalty for said disliked character. I always root for the underdog (provided their unpopularity isn't due to any malice or y'know out and out evilness on their part).

I think this is true for a lot of people. The problem is that it's a sort of bad tactic to get fans on a character's side, because it's polarizing - you'll like that character, but you'll dislike the others who are picking on them unfairly. In Smallville, a lot of Lex fans pretty much hate the rest of the cast, for being mean to Lex...

As for everybody loves so and so eps, they generally make me like the character less even if I loved them to begin with. A good example of this is when I started watching Gilmore Girls. The daughter, Rory, in the show was my favorite character in the first season, but as the series progressed, I ended up liking her less and less as every single character around her began/continued to worship her and without any good reason that I could see.

I never disliked Rory, but I was pretty neutral about her, and yeah, for this reason. It's bad writing to make all your stories "everybody loves X" stories, because like I said, such stories rarely show the good sides of a character. (Now that I think about it, I think one of the elements of most "everybody loves X" is that the character being loved is doing something unlovable, but is loved anyway, and that's what makes it special. The whole point is that they're not earning the love, but getting gifted it, because they deserve it.) But if they're constantly getting love for no reason that the audience can understand, we fall out of sympathy. You need to balance receiving love with the characters earning love, of the other characters, and the audience, too.
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erda_3
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:31 pm (UTC)
Does it say something that as soon as I read this line:



"Everybody likes a character" is not a way to make that character be liked by the audience.


I knew this was going to be about Keller?

I was predisposed to like Keller. I liked Kaylee and I never cared for Beckett. Way back when Keller and Rodney reactivated Elizabeth's nanites I was thinking, wow, working together, mutual respect, this could go somewhere. And now, it seems that every episode makes me dislike the character more. This instant bonding, the way she is in so many scenes seemingly at the expense of the team is driving me crazy. It seems the whole season is going to be devoted to Keller love. Yeah, not working for me.
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's why I wrote this - because I keep getting cranky, every time I hear spoilers about another upcoming "everybody loves Keller!" ep it makes me grit my teeth and roll my eyes. Except I know for a fact that if it were "everybody loves Rodney" eps I would be cheering (even as other fans rolled their eyes.) So it's not that trope fundamentally that annoys me, but rather, since I dislike Keller, that I don't like all these stories centered around how much my favorite characters do love her.
busaikko
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
And just to parallel with S5's Keller mistakes... Woolsey is fantastic. He's a bureaucrat, and worked against the SGC in the past; but the more we see of him, his quirks and his principles and his backstory, the more I love him....
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
Don't we all! They've given us much to love about Woolsey. And having Atlantis herself be a bit against him, when we're fond of him, is putting us more on Woolsey's side. I wouldn't mind an "everybody loves Woolsey" ep, actually...well, it might be a little soon, he's not quite in synch yet, but by the end of the season, yeah, I'd go for that!
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aerynvala
Sep. 28th, 2008 03:07 pm (UTC)
just woke up, so I'm barely coherent, but dude...I *heart* your brain. That's exactly what my problem with Keller has been. She replaced Carson and then all of a sudden, for no apparent good reason, the show expected me to give a damn about her and believe that all the other characters did too.
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
I don't think this is the only reason I dislike Keller, maybe not even the main one - but it's definitely a contributing factor. It certainly isn't to her advantage that Rodney & Ronon have fallen for her, or that none of them will ever get angry with her...
tringasolitaria
Sep. 28th, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)
Very interesting and thought-provoking thoughts. I think you're very very right. (I actually wrote another post earlier, but I had just woken up, and it was just rambling on a loosely connected tangent, so - sorry).

I do think we have some examples of this in Stargate other than Keller, though. Cam and Vala come to mind immediately. As does Sam Carter even. I've found that a lot of people I know who don't like Carter will say that their dislike of her started in the later seasons, particularly S7-8. And those were seasons where her character was more emphasized. Following along with your theories here, probably it would follow that people who were already big Sam fans enjoyed the seasons, but people who were only mildly interested in her character or were neutral could have been pushed over into the dislike column. And while Sam's had a while to earn her place, she also is seemingly beloved and praised by one and all in the Stargate 'verse. I can't remember Sam ever dealing with a serious interpersonal conflict with one of the other characters on the show. Even the confrontation with Ronon seemed to be only a token scene, smoothed over by the end of the episode.

Of course, I would imagine that Sam fans feel she's earned it, just as Rodney fans feel about his character. Non-Sam fans get frustrated that the other characters are constantly used to tell us how great she is (see also: The Seed).

Cam and Vala also were widely hated on their introduction, I think a lot because of this. More Cam than Vala maybe. I like Cam, but I know a lot of fans were frustrated because he was built up as this perfect soldier that everyone loved, and they didn't feel like there was enough justification for his being included on the team, much less as the leader, or why everyone would automatically be his friend.

Anyway. Yeah. Still rambling, but hopefully more on topic this time.
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
Oh, I think there's lots of examples in lots of fandoms! Especially female characters have a habit of existing largely conflict-free; no one ever dislikes them, and lots of times everyone just loves them - and often they don't have as many likable, cool traits as male characters, so there's nothing else to win us over.

The thing is, I don't think this principle is necessarily an overriding factor in whether we like a character or not. I believe there's a lot of different contributing factors - and it's personal, everyone's got different buttons and triggers, things they like or hate. So for some people, too much character-love is a big deal; others aren't bothered. (Sheppard was very much loved in the first season, except by Sumner; he never had to deal with much flack about him taking over by shooting his commanding officer. But I mildly liked Sheppard from the start, so didn't mind...)

I actually do like Sam, because she's one of the few female super-geniuses going and she's so unassumingly confident, and funny in how calm she can stay while pulling off ridiculous scientific feats. And she had to prove herself to Jack in the very beginning...but yes, this is my point; because I like her, I don't question that other characters do!

I like Cam, too, and thought he had to work pretty hard to be friends - everyone liked him okay, but they weren't willing to rejoin SG-1 because of it; he took a long time to talk them into it. But then, I had a thing for Ben Browder from Farscape. Too, while the team liked Cam, I don't remember any particular "everybody loves Cam" eps, where their only focus was helping Cam. In s5 alone we've already had two eps where our main characters' mission was saving Keller...
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raiining
Sep. 28th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
Mmm, good point on this. I like your reasoning, and can see it at work in both Rodney and Keller. Love the Lex parallels, mostly because I enjoy Smallville Fanfiction and not Smallville itself :)

.. so taking this theory, which episodes outlined our love for Rodney? The one's where he is being a jackass, but not the 'everyone hates Rodney' eps (not that Trinity was exactly an 'everyone hates Rodney' ep, but it definately had the same effect to those of us who love him). So .. the first season where he's sarcastic and scared and willing to take on the galaxy anyway?
xparrot
Sep. 28th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
Smallville is one of the most frustrating shows ever. It's the only show I've ever fanned on that I actively hated the canon, by the end; I just loved Lex ^^;

I don't know if there's a particular episode that defined the Rodney-love - I think it's different for all fans. gnine has a theory about how character love (or hate) builds slowly as a combination of factors, with everyone's tastes being different. So some people love Rodney because he's funny and some love him because he's brave and some love him because he's smart, or some combination of the above. Me, I was predisposed to like Rodney because I did in SG-1 (...no, really, I thought he was hysterical, baiting Sam) and in "Rising" he had that "using power, using power...!" line, and in "38 Minutes" he had the cutest worried-face, and after that...I pretty much never looked back. ^^
ionaonie
Sep. 29th, 2008 10:41 am (UTC)
I think the problem is that the PTB liked Keller so much, had ideas of what they wanted to do with her, that they didn't give a good preportion of us enough time to actively like her.

In season one, they had to create situations, personalities etc to make us like these characters, root for them and fear for them when in danger. In my opinion, they didn't do this with Keller.

They haven't created any conflict for Keller, and no real, consistant personal flaws. I do see Keller as inconsistant. Her flaws etc seem to change from epiosde to episode. And yes, everyone changes, but with all the other characters it's been seasons in the making, not episodes.

The thing is, I should have liked Keller. I love Jewel. I think she's a great actress. I loved Kaylee. I never cared for Carson and by the beginning of season 3, I didn't really like him. So a new CMO had me really excited and ready to like whoever it was because it wasn't Carson. And yet they managed to mess it up *eyeroll*
xparrot
Sep. 29th, 2008 12:23 pm (UTC)
The thing is, I should have liked Keller. I love Jewel. I think she's a great actress. I loved Kaylee. I never cared for Carson and by the beginning of season 3, I didn't really like him. So a new CMO had me really excited and ready to like whoever it was because it wasn't Carson. And yet they managed to mess it up *eyeroll*

I've seen a lot of people say just this about Keller - it's pretty much what I feel myself (I did like Carson, but I didn't love him - and I rather dislike him a lot since he's returned, though I blame that partly on Mallozzi & Mullie, my least favorite writers, writing most of his eps.) I was predisposed to *like* Keller, and yet they screwed that up, and it is interesting to try to figure out why...(Even of people defending her, most of them say they like her but they like the other characters more - I haven't met anyone who she's their favorite character. And that makes me think she must be flawed somehow...)

Edited at 2008-09-29 12:23 pm (UTC)
droolfangrrl
Sep. 29th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC)
Well thought out essay there!

*noms on the food for thought and finds it tasty indeed!*
xparrot
Sep. 30th, 2008 12:47 pm (UTC)
*passes the salt* ^___^
elspethdixon
Sep. 30th, 2008 01:38 am (UTC)
This is also why h/c stories don't often work as well right out of the gate, why intensive h/c is more enjoyable with established characters. Hurt/comfort won't make you like a character, it only reinforces your feelings about a character. You have to like them for some other reason first.

While this is true to some extant, I've also found that if I'm encoutering a character for the first time when they're on the receiving end of well-done h/c, that often is enough to make me like them. But then, I have a hard-core h/c kink. *grins*

realizing that many fans didn't especially like Keller, the SGA writers tried to do "everybody likes Keller" with "The Seed", hoping to work the same magic as with Rodney - except it backfired, because if you don't like a character, "everybody likes that character" will just reinforce your dislike of that character

Something similar is ongoing in my primary fandom right now -- one of the canon writers killed off a very long-established and much-beloved character and replaced him with a new character introduced by (wait for it...) the selfsame writer. Many fans, unsurprisingly, hate replacement!character with a burning passion -- and the fact that everyone in canon is portrayed as easily accepting this guy as a worthy sucessor to the dead!beloved!been-around-since-1941!character is only feeding the fanboy hate. A little in-canon resentment and outrage, something where he had to struggle to get people to accept him ("How dare you wear his costume! You're not worthy of it! etc.") would have gone a long way towards making people not actively root for replacement!guy to die in a fire.

Interestingly, I think there might be an odd corollary, that "everybody hates a character" works the same way, reinforcing the audience in either direction - if you already dislike the character, you'll just dislike them more; but if you like them, even mildly, and you see them being hated on, you'll start to like them more - you'll feel sorry for them, want to defend them; and often you'll start to dislike the characters who are hating on them.

*nods* I can attest from experience that this is true. Replace "characters who are hating on them" with "other fans who are hating on them" and you've got pre-Iron Man movie Marvel fandom nailed. When I first started getting into online comics fandom (as opposed to just buying and reading them offline), Tony Stark was on the receiving end of more character bashing than I've seen since Lana Lang in Smallville and Relena in Gundam Wing -- seriously, I've never seen a male character hated that intensely in seven years in fandom. The longer canon continued it's "everyone including the writers is mean to Tony" trend (still ongoing, though several writers now have shifted from making him a scapegoat to just writing him badly), the more the non-Tony fans hated him, and the more the readers who actually liked Tony became snarlingly defensive partisans who hated everybody who hated him (or maybe that was just me).
xparrot
Sep. 30th, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC)
I am all over the h/c, but it definitely works better for me with established characters I already cared about. When it comes to new characters - actually, I think I more like the characters doing the comforting than those getting hurt (I tend to fall more on the smarm end rather than the whump end of the h/c spectrum...)

A little in-canon resentment and outrage, something where he had to struggle to get people to accept him ("How dare you wear his costume! You're not worthy of it! etc.") would have gone a long way towards making people not actively root for replacement!guy to die in a fire.

Yeah, I think one of the reasons having the other characters resist a character change is that it gives the writer a really good reason to state outright why this new character is awesome. Such telling rather than showing sometimes is detrimental, but sometimes it's actually useful for the author to establish in their own minds what's new.

Replace "characters who are hating on them" with "other fans who are hating on them" and you've got pre-Iron Man movie Marvel fandom nailed.

Yes, I've definitely noticed that fan-hate can polarize a fandom pretty quickly, making people jump to the char's defense (that happened unintentionally on a recent meta, and now we're feeling guilty about ever starting it; I didn't realize it could widen a divide so much...)

(also, having just seen the Iron Man movie, and having no prior experience with the char - people hate Tony Stark? But--but--he's so awesome! I had some issues with other things in the movie, but Tony was just one long EEEEEEEE! <3333 for me ^^;)
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ceares
Sep. 30th, 2008 11:36 am (UTC)
Great meta! ITA. So much that I had a kneejerk reaction and wanted to jump in and explain why Lex is so awesome and everyone should love him. Which just proves your point *g*.

I think you're absolutely right about writers or show runners or whoever not getting it a lot of times though. And I think part of the reason is they've created this 'great' character, they already love them, so they are reacting much like fans, whereas in the case of more caustic or edgier/darker characters, they're aware they need to work to make people like them or be sympathetic towards them.
xparrot
Sep. 30th, 2008 01:07 pm (UTC)
Diving to Lex's defense is an instinct many of us share - I've been mostly out of SV for going on a year now and still feel it on occasion ^_^

they've created this 'great' character, they already love them, so they are reacting much like fans, whereas in the case of more caustic or edgier/darker characters, they're aware they need to work to make people like them or be sympathetic towards them.

I think this is true. I wonder if this is why female characters especially suffer from it - because male writers are more inclined to just love their girls, and assume everyone else will, too. While as especially women are not especially inclined to like a female character more than a male character, and want more out of them than what we get.
(no subject) - ceares - Oct. 1st, 2008 03:40 am (UTC) - Expand
green_grrl
Sep. 30th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
Hee! I totally agree on Keller. Though the first example that came to mind was Lana. *shiver*

And I also agree that male writers lean way too heavily on their own crushes on the actresses to develop the characters well. (Listen to the way TPTB talk about Amanda Tapping. Eep!)
xparrot
Oct. 2nd, 2008 07:06 am (UTC)
I'm not Keller's biggest fan, but she is far & away better than Lana, indisputably!

Yeah...I wonder if the reason Teyla gets less scenes is because the writers don't have a crush on her (except McCullough...)
alessandriana
Sep. 30th, 2008 08:34 pm (UTC)
Coming to this a couple days late, but: I really wish we could make this required reading for showrunners/writers, because I really think you hit the nail on the head here.

Re: the Mary Sue part-- this brings to mind an LotR fic I was reading a while ago, where the stated purpose was to create an "anti-Mary Sue". The writer turned a lot of the traditional Mary Sue tropes on their head; the character wasn't perfect, wasn't gorgeous, didn't fall in love with main characters, etc. And yet three-quarters of the way through, I finally threw my hands in the air and closed the tab-- if it'd been a book, I'd've thrown it at the wall-- because despite the reversal of tropes, I *still would have classified this character as a Mary Sue*. Took me a while to figure out exactly why, but I finally realized it was because all the canon characters in the story pretty much liked her/felt sorry for her instantly, and I could have cared less about her. It was all the smarm of h/c with none of the whump. And like you say, the more the characters expressed their love, the more I got pushed in the opposite direction...


I think there might be an odd corollary, that "everybody hates a character" works the same way, reinforcing the audience in either direction

For me at least, even if I mildly dislike a character, seeing everyone start to hate them has a good chance of making me feel sorry for them, which then makes me start liking them. Case in point: Andrew, from Buffy. He can be irritating as all get out, and yet when I saw how everyone-- both on the show, and fans-- disliked him so much, I started going well, he's not that bad-- and now he's one of the only people from that show I still read fic about.
Then again, the 'everyone hates character A' storyline has great potential for the 'character A proves they're not really all that bad [and gets beat up in the process]' fic, which is one of my bulletproof h/c kinks, so-- yeah. *shrug*


...*looks up* Sorry, that got kinda long...
elspethdixon
Oct. 2nd, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC)
the 'everyone hates character A' storyline has great potential for the 'character A proves they're not really all that bad [and gets beat up in the process]' fic, which is one of my bulletproof h/c kinks, so-- yeah.

*shuffles feet* This... is probably the bestest plot ever! my hardest-core bulletproof kink. The "X is Terribly Misunderstood (and gets beat up a lot, and Everyone is Sorry)" plot.
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sholio
Jan. 29th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
Now that I haven't got much SGA squee to harsh, I'm going back and reading a few meta posts that I'd avoided before because of potential squee-harshing. Which is why I'm commenting now, so long after the fact. :D

Anyway, I think the "show love=viewer hate" theory is really insightful, and explains a lot not just about SGA but about the character/fandom dynamics in a lot of different fandoms, especially what makes character replacement successful (or not), or when fandom's reaction to a character is utterly different than what it ought to be given their place in the show. (Rose in Doctor Who is another immediate example that comes to mind.) It also seems like a corollary to this is something that we(?) were talking about somewhere else ... I can't remember the context of the discussion now, and I'm not even positive it was you, but it had to do with characters needing to work for their happy ending -- that it's completely unsatisfying if it's just handed to them. This is similar, I think ... as viewers or readers, we don't respond well to a character being given their place in the cast, and the others' affection being handed out as a given. We want to watch them struggle for it.

It's definitely something for me to remember as a writer, because I think you're absolutely right that having a character be disliked is a good route to reader sympathy (assuming, of course, that they're not disliked solely because they're a wretched excuse for a human being).

It's interesting to use that theory, also, to compare Keller in SGA with Elliot in Scrubs (that being the example that pops into my head since I'm currently watching the series). Elliot's a very similar character -- female doctor; young, blond, pretty; love interest for a main character; insecure about her abilities. But in Elliot's case, she's the butt of mocking from everyone ranging from other doctors to her parents, and her neuroses are so completely over the top that it's basically impossible to hate her; it'd be like kicking a puppy, and besides, all you have to do is wait a few minutes and the show kicks her around anyway. XD I think you're absolutely right that having her place in the cast's affections given to her did not do Keller any favors as a character, especially since she was a very two-dimensional character otherwise (even more so than the rest of them -- give SGA's generally wooden characters and actors, it's pretty sad that Jewel makes the rest of them look good by comparison, but she does. XD).

Basically, I guess that having everyone love a character from the get-go is, ironically, giving them a handicap out of the starting gate, whereas everyone hating them gives them an advantage. A character can overcome that handicap if they're interesting enough otherwise, but it does give them an uphill road; we do seem to be programmed to sympathize with the character who's being piled on, and to resent one who gets all the accolades.

I had never really thought about it intensifying how the viewers already feel about a character, though, and while I think there's definitely some truth to that, I think too much "everybody loves so&so" on the show can even chase off people who liked the character to begin with. (I know that's true of me with Rose on DW, and Tony on NCIS.)

Ack, gotta get ready for work!

Edited at 2009-01-29 05:35 pm (UTC)
xparrot
Jan. 29th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
I was definitely thinking of Rose when I wrote this - and Lana Lang, and Rodney, too, writer's favorite that he is. What you say about a character working for their happy ending is spot-on. But how much one feels a char "deserves" happiness depends on how much one likes a char - if you like a char, you tend to feel they deserve happiness, even if they don't go through hell for it; if you don't like them so much, you tend to want to see them struggle for it (especially if a char you *do* like is not getting the happiness you feel they deserve, or are even getting the shaft in favor of the creator-loved char.)

Heh - Gnine and I frequently compared Keller to Elliot; it's one of the reasons Keller annoyed us, because Elliot is the same kind of character, done *right*, and we're quite fond of Elliot. She can be awful annoying, but when she is, she's *called* on it. The show makes it clear that while we are supposed to like and sympathize with Elliot, we're not supposed to like everything about her. (How far are you into Scrubs now? Because the other reason I like Elliot is how she develops over time...)
(Oddly, I wonder if the SGA writers watch Scrubs, because Keller really is so much the same kind of character, only not as well-written, and they also didn't consider that Elliot makes perfect sense as a struggling intern, much less sense as the head of medicine on a top-secret military project!)

(...Really, if one is not concerned with squee-harshing, analyzing the mistakes of SGA's writing is educational for a writer ^^;;;)

I think too much "everybody loves so&so" on the show can even chase off people who liked the character to begin with. (I know that's true of me with Rose on DW, and Tony on NCIS.)

This seems to depend partly on the fan - looking over the comments to this, some people seem to be very turned off by the "everyone loves X" model; it's a handicap, as you say. While as it tends not to bother me unless I dislike the char in question for other reasons - so I like Rose for the most part, and love Tony. And conversely some fans are inclined to sympathize with hated characters, while others aren't as much, and I'm pretty neutral on that, too. (But I am sometimes sensitive to the "everybody hates X" model, when it's written deliberately as a ploy to gain reader affections - I'm reading Sarah Monette's Melusine trilogy now, and find myself wanting to smack Felix as much as most of the chars do...!)

In light of this, I wonder if the "intensifying" effect I mention is true for me, but not really for you, because the "everyone loves X" is a negative trope in general for you, and thus rarely if ever will contribute to you liking a character more; while it's neutral for me, and can go either way.
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tringasolitaria
Oct. 16th, 2009 01:25 am (UTC)
I know I've commented on this post before, but rereading it now (I sincerely hope that doesn't seem too stalkerish), something you said gave me a total "Ah hah!" moment. It was this -

If you're neutral about a character, "everybody likes the char" tends to leave you cold...

The whole section following that, actually, but I didn't want to quote all of it. Here's the thing - there's a show I watch that I've been really struggling to figure out my reactions to. I kept feeling like I should be squeeing at certain scenes, but as you said here, they literally left me cold. I'm like...I feel like I should be moved by this. But I'm not and I don't understand why. And it's annoying me. But I don't hate this character so what's going on? But this helped make it make sense to me - the character in question is one I would normally consider myself to be neutral about.

Thanks for helping me figure it out. :)
xparrot
Oct. 16th, 2009 07:34 am (UTC)
*laughs* No fear - I find internet-stalking flattering, really ^_^

Oooh, but now I'm curious, what show have you been watching?

Edited at 2009-10-16 07:43 am (UTC)
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