Good is good, isn’t it?

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
I don’t remember why, but I recently visited the Goodreads page of one of my all-time favorite books, Tinker by Wen Spencer. I’ve read this sci-fi book several times already, and I’ll probably re-read it again next year. I love the world the author has created so much that I’ve written 3 fan-fiction stories set in her world. Two of them are already published on wattpad. But that’s beside the point of this post. The point is: to my surprise, many reviewers didn’t like the book and gave it a very low rating. They explained the reason for their disdain: the heroine was too good. Several reviewers even compared her to a Mary Sue. But why is it a stigma?

I agree with their assessment. Tinker, the titular heroine of the novel, is a surprisingly good girl, cheerful, compassionate, and utterly honest. Plus, she is very clever, a mechanical genius. She helps everyone in need, and that’s why everybody in the book loves her. That’s why I love her. And because I love and admire her so much, this book and its sequels are among my favorite novels in all speculative fiction.

In general, I love good persons as protagonists in fictional stories. Their goodness doesn’t make a story boring. Positive and smart persons encounter their share of problems just as often as flawed persons. But the common perception among readers is that an all-around wonderful person is boring to read about. Why? It baffles me.

When you have a kind and moral person as a friend or a neighbor or a family member, you treasure them, probably much more than your perpetually lying druggie neighbor or your unreliable alcoholic co-worker. Why wouldn’t you love a fictional honorable guy? I’m sure you all adore your ‘Mary Sue’ aunt who helps everyone in the family. Why is ‘Mary Sue’ an insult, when applied to fiction?

I know that recently, making a story revolve around a flawed protagonist has been all the rage, but I don’t understand this approach. As a reader, I don’t like reading about problematic characters, like drug addicts or drunkards. I’m not interested in their stories. As a person, I try to avoid them in my life too.

What is even stranger is that this conundrum seems to be genre specific. Readers of speculative fiction frequently demand faults in their fictional heroes, but I have never read a romance review, where the readers would complain of a heroine being ‘too good’. It seems OK for a romantic heroine to be nice and faultless, but not for a sci-fi heroine. Why?

Tell me what you think in the comments.


This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Good is good, isn’t it?

  1. Good question. I think maybe a lot of readers are jealous of a character that is happy and positive because they aren’t and therefore don’t like that character. But the genre of book shouldn’t matter.

  2. Donna Hole says:

    I don’t know, but speaking for myself, I want to find uncomplicated romantic love with no drama or life threatening events. Two nice people fall in love and live happily ever after. Its not the kind of love I found, but its like Cupid, I like to think it really exists. On the other hand, I want my adventure story to be full of adventure, so overcoming personal issues to become the hero is more satisfying.

    A lot of people just want to read a nice, well organized story – adventurous or not – about ordinary people. You are not alone in that preference Olga. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. I frequently read short stories where nice people succeed in complex situations.

    Sometimes I just need a little fluff in my life!

  3. patgarcia says:

    I really don’t know. I think that is has to do with the condition of our souls. We have lost an eye for goodness. We as human beings have become more demanding of the writers that we read and also more insistent that the main characters in their books resemble us, so that we can feel good about ourselves.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  4. Even a really good character can have some faults and that’s enough for me. The main character in my first book falls in that category, although it was speculative fiction.

  5. I guess what everyone (or most people) want is a ‘relatable’ character instead of one that’s too good to be true. Though I agree that’s it’s unfair that certain types of characters belong only to certain genres.

  6. emaginette says:

    You have an interesting point and I have no answers for you. I believe there are good people in the world. They are never perfect, but their goodness is always there. My grandmother was like that.

    With me at any rate. 😉

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  7. Erika Beebe says:

    I don’t know why people would review a book poorly because the heroine is too good. Maybe it’s a lack of identification on the reader side. I’m not sure, but I love books with kind and loving characters. I’ve known a few. I’ve read a book with one I thoroughly enjoyed by Meg Cabot. It was called Abandon.

  8. For me, it just depends on my mood. Sometimes I do just want to read about someone who’s truly good and kind, someone who I can just root for without question.

  9. Loni Townsend says:

    I have a Mary Sue character, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I really think it’s about being able to connect with them. Then it just boils down to opinion since good and bad are subjective when it comes to stories. 🙂

  10. Juneta says:

    I don’t have an answer. An interesting question to think about. Happy IWSG!

  11. yvettecarol says:

    I’m the same way. I tried so hard at times to make my characters unlikeable in some ways and especially for the hero and heroine, I could never bring myself to do it.

  12. I agree with Diane that characters should have character flaws. No one is perfect and it can help with the character development needed in a story.

  13. rolandclarke says:

    I can relate to good characters even if some character flaws drive some stories. But too many flaws or tropes are worse than a Mary Sue. I dislike detectives with trope problems like drinking or dead partners. Ok., my MC is good in many ways and her drinking is confined to coffee – black. Her flaw is more in the eyes of ‘chapel folk’. Good garners more stars from me than over-flawed.

  14. Gwen Gardner says:

    My protagonist is good–but she has flaws. She’s a bit clumsy and anti-social. That said, I don’t mind good characters.

  15. Denise Covey says:

    Food for thought Olga. I’d love to write about good people who do good deeds but my critters would never abide that. They’re always suggesting ways for my heroes to suffer. That is the status quo in writing these days. James Scott Bell – put your hero up a tree and throw rocks at them. Nevertheless, all my heroes are moral people trying to make it through a challenging situation. Nuff said.

  16. Denise Covey says:

    It is not really suffering you meant, though, is it? But readers want conflict, conflict, conflict. I would have loved to have been writing in a much earlier era.

  17. Huh. I can remember getting rejections on partials because my main character wasn’t likeable enough. There must be some magical happy medium out there, somewhere. I’m trying to think of a “Mary Sue” character that I really like and I’m coming up blank, except possibly Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame? I need more sleep.

  18. Diane Burton says:

    I entered one of my stories in a contest where the judge said my heroine was too “Mary Sue.” (I had to look that one up since I had no idea what it meant.) I was insulted, at first. Then, I thought again. That is exactly what she was at the beginning of the story–all wide-eyed and optimistic. I must have done a good job, then. lol Enjoy your fav book and ignore those awful reviews. You like it. Nothing else matters.

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