Katniss and the Importance of Relationships

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about character. What makes a good character? How do you balance a character’s flaws with the qualities needed to move the plot along? What makes a character likable (or, better word, relatable)? What does likable really mean anyway?

A few months ago, A-Read read The Hunger Games and I was reminded about how prickly Katniss is. During her preparations for the Games, she is often told she has to find ways to make others like her, or find ways around her unlikability. A writer friend and I decided to reread the beginning of The Hunger Games and try to determine what made a potentially unlikable character likable.

(Preface: It’s hard to find what makes Katniss unlikable when I’ve read the entire trilogy and seen all the movies. I know her. I like her. I root for her.)

In the first chapter, there are several small things that make her potentially unlikable. But there are many things that make her likable and they all have to do with relationships. Her relationship with Prim. Her relationship with Gale. Her relationship with Madge. Even her relationship with Peeta at that early stage when they’ve never spoken a single word to each other. It’s especially her relationship with Prim, both gentle and fierce at the same time, that humanizes Katniss and makes you like her. How she’ll protect and provide for Prim above herself, to the point of risking death for her.

This importance of relationships really struck me. Agents and editors often say they want character-driven novels. But what makes a character? It’s more than someone’s likes and dislikes, goals and dreams. Conflict moves a plot forward. And conflict comes from relationships.

People can tell you how to create relatable characters, over and over and over. But sometimes you have to see it for yourself, see it in action, and really feel it (show don’t tell, right?).

Who else would you describe as prickly and potentially unlikable, and how did the author make you root for her or him?



Filed under writing

8 responses to “Katniss and the Importance of Relationships

  1. The minute Katniss offers herself for the games, it’s a heroic moment. I watched the reaction of those around me, and saw the same thing, no matter what she did after that moment, she was their hero. Perfect example.

  2. Vicki, it’s great hearing from you. I remember that Mary from The Secret Garden had a difficult personality, but I suppose one of the things that made me root for her was when she made friends with the boy in the story.

  3. You make good points. To me, even in an action book, it’s all about character. If there’s character soup, so I can’t connect or if it’s high concept, but doesn’t deliver on character, I won’t get through it.

  4. The MC in J. Anderson Coats’s THE WICKED AND THE JUST. She starts out as a privileged brat, but her voice was gripping, so I stuck with her long enough to see how she changed. And the MC in Libba Bray’s DIVINERS, I didn’t like her very much at first, but she was funny and vulnerable, too, which won me over. (Sorry I don’t remember the MCs’ names…I rarely remember the names.)

  5. My mum used to say ‘actions speak louder than words’, and I’ve tried to remember that when developing characters in my books. You make a very good point that when someone does something kind or heroic, it provides us with an insight into their inherent character. Mr Darcy springs to mind; aloof and unapproachable, unlikeable, yet when he helps Elizabeth’s family, we all fall in love with him.

  6. Hmm, good question. I’ll have to think of a few examples of unlikeable-at-the-start characters. You’re right, it’s a good example to learn from!

  7. I think you nailed it. We’ve been rewatching Prison Break, and you could toss the same debate out there about the characters. Really, it comes down to the relationships. The way a character relates to the people around them either makes or breaks them.

  8. Leslie Rose

    I love the scene in the Mockingjay film when Haymitch asks around the table when they were generally moved by Katniss. That really illustrated her authentic attachments. I actually had trouble warming up to Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird at first.

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