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What makes you say "I don't want to read about this character anymore"?

This is probably best explained through an example. A while ago, I read a book called I Am Not a Serial Killer, the main character of which is a sociopath with violent impulses. He's clever, insightful, and even relatable at times, but he can also be a very uncomfortable character to read about, especially when he's fantasizing about doing something horrible. He's not a villain protagonist or anything, just . . . dark.

More recently, I picked up the sequels. Book 2 develops him into something resembling a heroic figure, but also removes everything that kept him under control. Book 3 has to deal with all the fallout of book 2, now that he's dropped his code against killing, he's willing to use innocent people as bait, and the one person who might have actually held him back thinks he's a twisted freak and no longer wants to talk to him. It got to a point where I felt physically uncomfortable reading the things this kid thought, and I wasn't able to finish reading the book.

What do you think makes a character unreadable? And what methods are available to work around it?


Felis amatus
The only real downfall for me is if the character or writing becomes uninteresting. Otherwise, I can go with it. The fantasy character Ballas, from Ian Gramham's Monument, has no redeeming features, but I enjoyed the book. Humbert Humbert, as we've discussed before, is thoroughly despicable, but Nabokov's skill in writing the narrative keeps you reading it. I'll go along with either a noble, gallant character or a thoroughly despicable one so long as the author can keep me interested with her writing. For the repulsive character, the writing has to be that much better.


It was a really long time ago, but I once read this book set in a post-apocalyptic world where a great plague wiped out all the adults, and only the children were left to rebuild civilization. One of the male characters (I believe his name was Tom Logan) was the leader of a gang of boys who offered to protect the heroine's faction as mercenaries. For some reason she refused his offer, and he ended up the main antagonist of the story. Given that the heroine had amassed a lot of food in a world where all the other children were starving, it seemed distastefully unfair that she would let Tom Logan and his guys starve even though they were willing to work for their keep. Ergo I lost all interest in the book.

Supposedly the whole book was written as a children's introduction to the themes of Ayn Rand's "Objectivist" philosophy. If its characterization of that philosophy was accurate, count me a disbeliever.


Article Team
Like Steerpike said, generally speaking, the only thing that would stop me from reading is if the character is becoming boring... and maybe stupid. Stupid as in doing stupid things because the plot required it. To me that's when the story becomes dishonest, and I can't stand that.

If a subject matter were uncomfortable to read, that might make me set the book aside, too, but it hasn't happened yet. Thought, I might have come close once or twice.


Article Team
I once read a story where the main character was something of a spoiled brat, doing mean and stupid things for no good reason. I was quite young at the time and I had no way of identifying with the character, or related to what they did or understand why they thought being an idiot would be a good thing. I also didn't understand why the writer had chosen to portray them as the main character.
I don't remember if I finished it, but I probably didn't.

I believe that if a character got too offensive I might stop reading the book because of that, but I haven't encountered that yet.


Characters that are either too stupid, too perfect or too annoying, and by stupid I don't mean low IQ. I liked the character Forrest Gump. No, I mean characters who routinely commit acts of such surpassing stupidity that the only reason I keep reading is that I hope to see them killed off. These characters seem to occur most often in horror flicks, soap operas and romances. Too perfect... just once I'd like to see Legolas get is ass kicked. Too annoying... From the Dragonlance novel Time of the Twins, Tasselhoff Burrfoot. I don't think I've ever wanted to see a character get squashed more than him. Crysania from the same book fits all three. She was presented as perfect, I thought she was a bleepin' idiot, and that made her bleepin' annoying. That was one of a few books I've read where I found myself pulling for the villain simply because he was the only one with any brains.


I rarely give up on a story, so I will have to agree with Steerpike in that it depends on the writing. I read one book not too long ago that made me give up. I hated it so much that it will remain unnamed. But I didn't understand what the author was doing. The character had killed someone at the beginning of the story...and still halfway into the book there was no emotional reaction from the character, no evolvement, she took advantage of people that helped her, and she still didn't have a damn name. It was so annoying I rage quit reading it. When I went online and read spoilers of how the book ended, I was glad that I had given up on it because it seems that the character never changed as a person. Does that answer your question? :)


Crysania from the same book fits all three. She was presented as perfect, I thought she was a bleepin' idiot, and that made her bleepin' annoying. That was one of a few books I've read where I found myself pulling for the villain simply because he was the only one with any brains.

Love those books, but I understand completely.

ETA: For me, if a character has no agency, that CAN be a dealbreaker, though not always.
For me, it is whether or not the character feels real. I can tolerate some weakness in the writing, so long as it does not become a distraction. In the same way I can have an interesting conversation with a relatively uneducated person.

No amount of florid. pretentious writing, on the other hand, will make up for a weak story. It'd be like listening to Ben Stein (who I like) lecturing on 17th century economics. Well spoken, but SNORE! Perhaps I'm just not literary minded enough.

In addition to real feel, I want the character to be unique, as well as flawed, in some way. Ian Fleming's original Bond was dark, conflicted yet heroic. Similar, would be Sherlock Holmes. The "cookie-cutter" characters that are too perfect, too evil, too pretty, too too are boring.

Sometimes, characters who I enjoy cease to be interesting due to "burn out". Drizzt Do'urden is a good example for me. I devoured a whole bunch of the books, but then the stories got "tired" and I lost interest. It is testimony to the author that he could write as many interesting ones as he did.
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I am wading through To Green Angel Tower, book 3 of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams, and I have to say every time I read its Maegwin or Tiamak and I have to fight the urge to flip pages. Both are characters completely lost in themselves and waiting for something to happen, their stories don't seem to drive the main story at all and I don't care what happens to them. I think a character with a weak story thread just makes it boring, in my view its getting in the way of or diluting the main story.


If the character is annoying in any way, I close the book. I define annoying in a character in several ways--passive, too perfect, idiotic, or just plain unlikable.

Example: The Cup and the Crown (can't remember the author's name). The MC, Molly, was one of those horribly perfect female characters who also happen to be stuck-up brats. Toward the end, it was shown that one of her friends, a stableboy who had been lorded, loved her. She rejected him because she felt he was beneath her, even though she was a scullery maid who had also been lorded! Come to think of it, the whole book was full of unlikable characters. The only one I could tolerate was the stableboy-turned-lord, Tobias.

Never could force myself to finish that book.


Myth Weaver
I tried and failed to finish a book where all the plot points seemed to be all coincidences.

"How are we going to get from London to Plymouth to stop our Father from boarding the ship run the evil Captain Greenfinch?"
"I don't know, brother, we will have to think of a way."
"Did I hear that you, young masters, would be wanting to go to Plymouth?"
"Yes we do!"
"Well, it just so happens that I am going to Bristol and can drop you off on the way..."

Okay I'm hamming it up a little but it was terrible... the bit about Plymouth being on the way to Bristol from London was actually in print and told me that the author had done absolutely no research or even looked at a map of England... it's 250 mile detour!

There was another "coincident" about the "heroes" needing 1000 guineas [an absurdly large amount for the time - sort of 18C England] and winning exactly that amount in a dice game behind a pub in one night... and no-one tried to kill them on the way home; as they walked slowly, their pockets full of gold, talking about how easy the game had been because their opponents had not been Gentlemen but merely street roughs...
Had I been there I would have killed them just to have them shut up!
The money would have been no more than I deserved for the public service...

Several things actually. The first is a lack of some sort of moral compass. The Men In The Jungle by Spinrad springs to mind. Between the rapes and the sensless sadistic violence I gave up early on. This is also why I gave up on the Game of Thrones books, and because the characters suffering were children, and every time I had a new MC to root for he or she was brutally murdered.

It's also been because a character has taken too much. I want to like the MC, but sometimes - and here I'm thinking of the Gap Series by Donaldson, I want them to die simply because the amount of suffering they've gone through by the end of the first book is so great that they could never recover. In their shoes I'd want to die. There simply was no victory great enough to make up for their history.

I also hate it when characters, otherwise seeming intelliegent and reasonable in their manners, suddenly do unbelievably stupid things - too stupid to live as they say. I can't remember the book but there was one I gave up on three quarters of the way through because the MC, knowing his brother / false prince etc, was an absolute arsehole who wanted to kill him, had sent endless assassins after him, and were in the middle of a war where both sides had been slaughtering one another all day but had stopped for the night, decided to simply walk in to his camp and confront him directly and ask why are you trying to kill me. It might have been meant to be emotional or noble or something, but to me it was just stupid.

At the same time some characters are either too clever or have too much information which comes out just at the right point to turn the plot and which you as the reader had no clue about. Some of Heinlein's characters did that and it kept annoying me as it was the next thing to a deus ex machina.

Cheers, Greg.


It thinks its boring. When a character starts to either bore me I don't want to read about him or her anymore.

KC Trae Becker

Let me start with the disclaimer that I try to forget books I didn't enjoy, because I don't want to be a killjoy. But some bad book experiences stand out and refuse to be forgotten.

Repetition of behavior patterns and too much predictability - BronzeOracle mentioned Tad Williams. I remember finishing the trilogy and wishing I hadn't bothered. Nothing happened.

Also too much chaotic behavior - Some Terry Pratchett books and characters are way too random to hold my interest.

Also, Psychotick mentioned Game Of Thrones - I got frustrated half way through book 3 and felt like the George R. Martin was untrustworthy to put any emotional investment into, because he built characters a certain way then totally screwed them over to make them the opposite of who they started out to be. If the author is the god/goddess of their created world, then Martin is a sadistic god. He writes well. He has great characters. But the cruelty he puts his characters through and the resultant cruelty they then display, fuels his cycle of cruelty. He likes to twists all things good to evil. Occasionally he twists evil to good, too, but far less often and less thoroughly. Westros is no place this carefully molded optimist wants to spend her time.

Books are therapy for me, but not shock therapy. I want to come away from a book strengthened, not weakened, depressed and paranoid.


The characters I have the hardest time with are angsty/whiny characters. I also tend to have trouble with very dark, sadistic sorts of characters -- especially if they're being presented as the protagonist.

The bigger problem I generally have (as has been commented on by a couple others in previous posts) is when the author feels the need to have his characters behave in either an incredibly stupid manner, or in a manner that totally goes against either their personality or the expected character traits of their profession/character type in order to move the plot forward. I've often found that to be much more annoying and harder to stick with than just badly written characters. The point where you decide the only way to advance the plot is for your characters to take stupid pills is the point that you've probably lost me as a reader.


Ah yes, the angsty character. The classic example of why I don't like much of YA fiction. It seems to be a staple of the genre.

Although Marion Zimmer Bradley has quite a corner on the angst market as well. I gave up a third of the way through Hawkmistress! because of the angst. Oh, the utterly whiny, teenaged, manufactured, self-centered angst...


Fatal character error.
Establish a character's personality and then they do something totally against their character for plot convience.

As I said in a military exercise that seemed to good for the "enemy", "Its not in script!" Don't let your drive of the story destroy your character.
Characters are not simply puppets we dance for the audience. They must stay true to their personality or they are lifeless figurines doing a meaningless dance.


Felis amatus
They must stay true to their personality or they are lifeless figurines doing a meaningless dance.

In real life, however, people sometimes do act out of character. I wouldn't say in fiction they always have to be true to their personality. An action against their established character or personality may be an important part of the character arc. But if it comes off as contrived for the purposes of taking the plot one direction or another (in other words, if it comes off as unbelievable) the author has a problem.


But even in real life, there is a reason for the personality change. Some flaw that made the person do the unexpected. To prevent being unbelievable, maybe hint at the flaw or reason. Maybe even have someone notice the hint, after the fact, to show there was reason behind the change, not just for the plot.
Sometimes we don't even know why we did it, but there is a reason why we do things, even if we don't know why.