What I'm reading: Master of Torment, by Karin Tabke
Last week's reads, especially 3 of Barry Eisler's John Rain series got me thinking about "heroes." As authors, we want readers to care about our characters. If they don't care about the protagonist, why should they finish reading the book? It's especially critical for a series, because a reader who doesn't like the character isn't likely to read the rest of the books. I know I follow a series when the characters draw me in. We want our heroes to be heroic. They might not be saving the world, but they should be acting honorably. What would we do if we were in their position? For a romance, the hero had darn well better be a good guy.
What happens when your hero has unlikeable qualities? Why do readers keep coming back for more when the hero is more of an antihero?
My cop contacts told me about the television show Dexter, where the main character kills people according to his personal code, instilled in him by his father. But he only kills "bad" people, those who have escaped the legal system, which gives it an interesting twist. Definitely not your typical hero.
Dexter is in its 4th season, so people are willing to accept the characters "hobby." Likewise, John Rain has come back five times since the first book. What makes people connect?
I don't know if there's a gender bias. I know hubby has trouble with the Dexter episodes where Dexter doesn't kill anyone. He considers the way Dexter has to deal with his relationships as getting in the way of the "good stuff." He's been reading a lot now that he's home all the time, and as he samples the authors in my collection, he's likely to move to a new author if there's too much "mushy stuff" in the book. Is it because I'm female that I'm drawn to the emotional side of characters?
While I have a feeling hubby would love reading about John Rain's assassin side, I think a series of books where the reader simply watches each kill would get tiresome. I am more likely to skim over the choreography of the fights and the kills, accepting getting the gist without trying to visualize each body position, each blow, to recreate it in my mind. (As an author, I can appreciate the details, because when I'm writing my own fight scenes, I strive to make them accurate, and apologies to Mr. Eisler for not devouring each combat word.)
What draws me to antiheros might not be what makes other readers connect with them. There has to be depth to these characters. And they need to grow.
Eisler's John Rain is an assassin with his own 'rules' about who he'll kill, but I don't think that makes him a likeable character. Unlike Dexter, he kills on contract. It's not enough that Rain won't kill a woman, or a secondary player. As a reader, I want to connect with a character on an emotional level. Since I've read the 1st three Rain books back to back, I'll use them to show some of the ways Eisler did it for me. And is my gender bias the reason that these moments don't happen during his killing scenes, but afterward, frequently when he's with or thinking about a woman?
(Note: Eisler writes in 1st person POV, so we're inside John Rain's head throughout the books. The following quotes are during Rain's introspective moments.)
From Rain Fall
A little more time at an anonymous hotel where we could float untethered from the past, free of all the things that I knew would soon end my fragile bond with this woman.
What I needed to do was not deny what I was, but to find a way to channel it.
From Rain Storm
To be periodically tantalized by the hope of something real, something good, always knowing at the same time that it was all going to turn to dust
I wished I could just accept their collective judgment, accept what I am. Accept it, hell. I wished I could fucking embrace it.
He would have known not to believe that. It made me miss him, and for a moment I felt bleak.
I realized how much I missed this form of companionship, how virtually nonexistent it had become in my life.
She made me feel like that previous incarnation, made me believe, foolishly, that I might even shed my current skin and be baptized anew in the incarnation's unsullied body.
So, although Rain is an assassin and has been killing for a long time, knowing that deep down, he's seeking redemption, that he sometimes wishes he didn't do what he does, makes him more of what one might call "human." Yet doing what he does makes him who he is, and he's a fascinating character.
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