Relating to Characters: Is it necessary to Enjoy a Book?

Relating to Characters

Hello guys !

I have a confession, I’ve had a blogging brain fart this week , I spent all of last week trying to think up a discussion topic that I feel inspired to write about (I have quite a few in my notebook but none I really want to talk about right now) until literally yesterday (writing this on Sunday) when I finished a book that I liked significantly less than I expected. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the word, I just felt… disconnected, so I started wondering whether it was because I didn’t care for the main character, couldn’t relate to him or something else. (Spoiler, it’s something else). Anyway, I thought I’d bring my internal ramblings and debates to the blog, because that’s what it’s for, right?

As I started thinking about this topic and trying to work out how to format it (I still don’t know, going with the flow on this one) I got flashbacks of reviews I read from time to time of people saying “I couldn’t get into it because I couldn’t relate with the MC’s experiences” or “I adored this because it reminded me of when I went through similar things so I felt comforted” There’s nothing wrong with neither statement, I think I’ve made the latter before a few times, I think it’s a matter of how you approach books, the relationship we build with characters as avid readers is very personal.

This post is in no way about how things SHOULD be, it’s more a matter of giving my own perspective and starting a discussion with all of you on how important relating to characters is. Let’s get this started, shall we?

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To me personally, wanting to relate to every character in order to enjoy the book is very limiting and a bit unrealistic, because I can’t expect to relate to EVERY character, not even most characters. Actually, the ones I relate to are very few, so can you see the flaw in that logic if I were to apply it on myself? First of all, Muslim characters are pretty rare, add to that, North African and you get ZERO (No, Morocco isn’t in the Middle East, thank you). I have NEVER fully related with a character. And my identity dictates a lot of how I see and live things. So, I can never find -for example- a romance that resembles something I’ve been through 100%, a family dynamic that’s like mine, career choices and what went into them that reflect my own. That being said, I still relate in *some* aspects.

Secondly, I read to expand my knowledge (for enjoyment as well, duh!) to discover experiences like mine elsewhere, people who may experience the same things and deal with them in completely different ways or people who experience things that are entirely different. People outside my ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion… That helps me understand the world as a whole, not just the bubble I’m living in.

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If you remember, a few months back, I wrote a post about “Reading Books at the Wrong Time” and talked about relating too much, this is something similar to that. To me, relating is either a good thing that gives me all the fuzzies and/or makes me want to scream “YEEEES!”, makes me feel seen and understood or, OR it’s the exact opposite because relating tends to reveal things about yourself, or confront you to things you don’t really want to see in yourself, things you don’t like and would much rather ignore the existence of, or things you just didn’t know were there.

In a way, reading about experiences outside my own feels safer. There are books I read recently that I made me realize some things about myself, and although I adored said books, those are things I’m not 100% ready to face yet. And if I was still in denial, I think I would’ve hated them instead of being drawn to them like I am right now.

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I honestly think that you don’t need to understand a character to enjoy reading about them, you don’t even need to like them. Empathy is the only emotion you need because just like in real life you don’t need to see where a person comes from to co-exist with them, feel for them, communicate with them, or even be friends with them, you don’t necessarily need to know in detail what goes on in the character’s brain to be able to read about them and even love their story. I don’t know, man! That’s just how I see things. Saying that you don’t like a story because you can’t relate could offend some people (not me, but I know it could) because that story might reflect their own experiences and that deligitimizes what they have gone through. Again, my opinion. You might not agree with it and that’s fine.

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Oh yeah, I know about the “the characters were too villain-like for me to enjoy” or some variation of that and I. just. don’t. get it. I think those are the best characters. When well done, they’re fascinating and the most interesting to read about. To know how their brains work, how things click, fold and unfold and what drives them. I love it. I like likeable characters but I like these ones as much if not more. “Like” isn’t then word to be honest. I appreciate them more. And I sure as hell can’t relate with those. Morally grey? Maybe, in some aspects. But not the villains. Never the villains. And I like reading about them all the same.

Anyway, that was my take on relating to characters and I’d be very interested to see what all of you think.


That’s it until next time.

Do you need to relate with characters to enjoy a book?

What makes you like/dislike a character?

Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.

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50 thoughts on “Relating to Characters: Is it necessary to Enjoy a Book?

  1. Great post, Fadwa! I completely agree with you on this. I don’t know if that’s because I mostly read non-French authors, but I never found any character with whom I could 100% relate… I’m not sure it exists? I think we sometimes find pieces of ourselves, and I prefer discovering other cultures than reading about my own, honestly. Also, THE VILLAINS! I loooove villains when they’re complex and multi-layered, and fortunately I can’t relate with most of my fave (or it would be… frightening LMAO). Truth, sometimes I can’t connect with the characters, but it’s more a case of one dimensional/flat/bad writing than anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you 😊
      I don’t think they have to be of the same nationality to relate but yeah that definitely is a factor. And I’m not sure it exists, with intersectionality and everything, you can’t find someone you’ll relate with 100%.
      Yeah you’re right but that’s more of a wroting issue than a character issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like this post. Personally, I think empathizing is the most important, but it elevates my book enjoyment even more when I also relate to the character. I don’t need to relate to every aspect, but if there’s a certain part of them i relate to or a certain situation where I would feel the same, then my appreciation for the book is even better.

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  3. Personally, I don’t really care too much about characters! Maybe that’s just a “me” thing (it probably is). 😂 I mean, I definitely are my favorite characters or my “squad goals,” but I don’t really find characters “annoying” like someone else has. So many time dive seen people say, “The MC was annoying,” and I’ve never understood how that can hinder a reading experience, but, again, probably a me thing. I can really only say I’ve related to three or four MCs out of all the books I’ve read, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like a lot of other books where I don’t relate to them at all.

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    • Oh really? To me, characters are the most important part of the book, that’s why I love character driven stories so much. I think that they either make the story or break it. I’m one of those people who get annoyed at characters haha, that’s just because I get very invested in their fate.
      That being said I totally get what you mean 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I loved this one because it made me realize that the reason I enjoy a lot of my fave books is that I can step into someone else’s shoes for a while. I totally agree with you that I don’t need to like or understand the characters in the book. It’s more like a character vacation for me. I love to read about characters who are totally different than me for this reason 😀😀

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  5. Really great and interesting discussion! I don’t think it is always relating (obviously a lot of times I haven’t been in their situation or I have a different identity). I think for me it is just usually connecting to and understanding them and their emotions.

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  6. Great discussion my twinnie! ❤ Characters are super important to me, and I have to admit that a book often gets extra-points if I can relate to the character a lot, whether it's because of her personality, the situation she's in, and so on. I never find myself 100% relating to a character though. I think for me the most important thing is to connect to a character and understand their motives – whether they are good, or bad, if I can feel some kind of connection, I'm good then;

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  7. I love the discussion you’ve got going on here and agree/’relate’ (paha) to a lot of what you’ve said. Especially the comment about it being a make-it or break-it situation, when I think about it, I tend not to like books and/or characters if I relate to the character too much. It’s because you get too emotionally involved and (in my case) stubbornly want things to go a certain way and are more likely to respond negatively when they don’t. Oh and if a character has a certain quality you have and another character destroys them over that… NOPE. 😂

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  8. For most of my life, I read strictly for enjoyment so relating to characters played a big role in my enjoyment. However, it was usually more with contemporary rather than fantasy or sci-fi. Lately, I’ve been trying to read a little more out of myself – if that makes sense. Like, realizing that while maybe I don’t really like a character or relate to one, that I can appreciate the story and how it might help others – as well as show me a life experience that isn’t mine.

    I still think contemporary will be a genre that I like to relate somehow, but it’s not necessary anymore. I remember reading More Happy Than Not – it was one of my FIRST reviews on my blog 2 years ago – and I hated it because I just didn’t relate. Two years later, I realize that while I couldn’t directly relate to that story or the characters, it was an important story to read and other people will definitely relate. It’s a lot different when you blog & are in the community – you definitely become more aware of these things.

    This is a great discussion! Definitely gets you thinking 🙂

    Molly @ Molly’s Book Nook

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    • Really? That’s very interesting! Because even when I used to read for enjoyment only, I didn’t care about relating, that’s why seeing a different perspective is nice haha.
      I would’ve hated MHTN too I think, if I had read it a couple of years back; it was just too far out of my lane. But I read it a few months ago and absolutely adored it.

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  9. I don’t necessarily need to relate to characters to enjoy the book. I do like it when I can relate (though as you pointed out that can be a bit much when it’s something we don’t want to see in ourselves), and sometimes when I relate a lot to the protagonist it does help in me loving the book more, but there are a lot of times where I can’t really relate to the characters (at all). Interesting post Fadwa! 🙂

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  10. I don’t need to relate to characters either, though of course it can be nice. My only issues are where I think everyone in the book is a jerk, and not even for “understandable” reasons or whatever. It’s possible to make flawed, “unlikable” characters likable to some degree. But books like The Thousandth Floor where everyone is a backstabbing jerk on drugs enacting petty revenge on the “friends” for “slights” that don’t matter…yeah, that’s hard to get into.

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    • Oh yes, I despise that in books. Unlikable characters can be that way without being annoying douchebags, it depends on how complex they are and THAT depends on how much work is put into them.
      I’ve stayed away from that book for that exact reason, the premise sounds cool but I didn’t like what I’ve heard of the characters so I’m skipping it.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great Post!
    Empathy is definitely important. Characters are really important to me but i’ve never marked down a book because I couldn’t relate to a character or their experiences weren’t relatable to me. If I really hate all the characters in a book then I do struggle because I need at least one to entice me to carry on. But I love to hate characters, if their evil or do something bad I love the feelings that ignites from me.
    I also like that I don’t relate to all characters, I like to experience new stories and be fully lost into the story. It’s why I also like to read books outside of England (other than Harry Potter) because I find it easier to lose myself in the unfamiliar.

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    • Thank you ❤
      Yeah, same goes for me. Hating characters that were written to be loved is a definite turn off for me but hating unlikable characters is okay because we don't really *hate* them if that makes sense haha.
      Yeah exactly, I read mostly to escape my own reality so that would defeat that purpose.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Literally everything you said in this post is exactly what I feel when it comes to characters, Fadwa! I don’t have to directly relate to a character to enjoy a book. Relating to a character is an incredible experience but if I don’t that isn’t going to automatically make me dislike a book. A big reason why I’ve always loved reading is because it lets me experience things outside of my own experiences and helps me see things through someone else’s shoes so to speak, it teaches me things while entertaining me. For me, it’s more of forming a connection with the characters. They could have a completely different life from me and different experiences but I’ll find these things I empathize with or parts of their personality that are similar to mine. Kind of like when you become friends with someone, you know? I think more often than not what makes me dislike a character and thus a book is when there isn’t development, they annoy me, or something they do/say I find really offensive or know would really offend someone else. And I’m with you on morally gray characters and villains. Although, I do have a tougher time liking villains but even when I dislike a villain I can appreciate the fact that they’re an extremely well-written villain. I don’t have to like a villain to like them (does that even make sense? 😂). I mean Nashira from The Bone Season is a very bad villain but I also love her even though I hate her because she’s a fantastic villain lol. Anyway! Great discussion as always. 😁💕

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    • Yaay! I’m glad you agree! Yes, yes and yes connections are so much more important than relatability. True, the only way I can really dislike a character is when they’re underdeveloped, assholes or offensive.
      bahaha! yeah it totally makes sense. I haven’t read the bone season but I definitely see what you mean :p
      Thank you ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Excellent post! One of the reasons I enjoy reading diverse books is to read about people who have different experiences to me! I learn so much from books and if every character was like me, then I wouldn’t learn anything at all!

    It is nice when sometimes I find part of my identity represented as that does really help me feel more confident in certain parts of myself (if it’s positive rep!) and I’d definitely pick up a book if I knew it had good rep but I feel no book will ever fully represent me unless I write it myself as everybody is so different you can never fully relate to a character, just experiences.

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    • Thank you 😀
      That’s exactly it, when I put a book down I like to have learnt something new from it.
      Yep, positive rep is so reaffirming is a lot of ways and I love that about it, and as you said to relate 100% I’d have to write the book myself and… that’s not happening hahaha.

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  14. Very nicely worked through, and laid out.

    I think that it is easier to have conversations like these where we distinguish between enjoying a book, *and*/or relating to the characters, setting, etc. when we’ve experienced the reality of not seeing ourselves in the content we consume. To see one’s self is, for all intents, and purposes, still a privilege. What is published, what is promoted is, as you already know, still guided by a system that excluded many. Thus, when we, i.e. those who are underrepresented in media, read/consume other content where we are not included, we automatically learn how to enjoy it, and empathise with the characters, while still feeling the disconnection between ourselves, and them. As someone who grew up on European classics, and Eurocentric fantasies, I didn’t even *know* that I should *want* to see, and relate to the characters beyond some basic emotional responses, until I stumbled upon Caribbean classics in an old cabinet back home. So, I agree, we don’t need to relate to the characters, and/or other aspects of the story to enjoy it, but I think it takes years of conditioning to recognise this if one, as a consumer, has never been forced to do so, or isn’t as deeply familiar with being in situations that required stepping out of one’s perspective to adjust to another’s temporarily.

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    • Thank you!
      Exactly, relating is a privilege and not a necessity. I relate very much to what you said, I didn’t even realize I wanted that representation until I realized that I could have it and that it was out there, which unfortunately happened only a year ago or so.
      Yeah, I think us marginalized folks have an easier time adapting to stories outside our experiences than other people.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I think a about this all the time, both as a reader and a writer. From a writer’s perspective, it is vitally important to write relatable characters (especially MCs) to ensure a captivated audience. By this, I mean they must act like humans. You can’t make a character that is like every person on the planet, but some things are universal; love, heartache, loyalty, the need to discover ones self, stuff that makes the character more human. I think a great example of this is Harry Potter. I don’t think I would get along with him in real life; he makes a lot of decisions and thinks a certain way that is vastly different from me in some places. But I still relate to his sense of loyalty to his friends, the feeling of not fitting in, the stress of exams in school. Some of my favorite characters are ones that I relate to on some levels, but then they also bring a few unique perspectives to the page.

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    • I agree with you on this one; I think that most often, when we hear, “I couldn’t relate,” what people actually mean is either they didn’t like the MC or they didn’t understand the MC. If the author is writing a character in such a way that you don’t understand why they are making certain choices, that’s a problem, but having specific life circumstances in common with a MC that you can relate to should not be a prerequisite for liking a book!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That IS true, a character shouldn’t alienate readers completely but at the same time writers can write a characters that accommodates everyone so as long as they’re three dimensional and well thought out, you should be fine 😀 because we always find something to hold onto. Yes exactly!! There are some things we all experience.
      Great example and I agree as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. You amaze me with your smarts, boo boo.
    I get where you’re coming from and I think you’re right about empathy being the only thing you should really need to read a book but I just can’t haha. Relating to characters is important to me, though I don’t necessarily need the characters to represent big parts of my identity. Reading from a girl’s perspective is enough for me to relate, sometimes reading from a boy’s point of view makes it harder for me to relate but then they have self-esteem issues or anxiety or are even just short and I relate haha. Most of the time, I feel like I need to like the character/narrator to enjoy the book, I like books where characters are the center, so if I don’t like them or I don’t relate to them, I just don’t like the book or it’s just okay to me.
    I love reading about experiences aside from my own, because you like say, it helps me learn about things I don’t particularly know. But at the same time, I can’t feel 100% alienated from the story because nothing would let me get lost in the story. I need to be able to slip into the narrator’s shoes in some way, so I can get lost in their journey.
    IDK that’s just how I read haha I wish I was able to enjoy everything just on the basis of accepting that person and that reality for being unique and important, and while I do accept and respect that, it doesn’t necessarily make the book enjoyable for me to read.

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  18. Very interesting topic this week Fadwa!

    “People outside my ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion… That helps me understand the world as a whole, not just the bubble I’m living in.”

    Yes! I actually look for books with a DIFFERENT perspective from my own… While it is nice to see myself in books (which I can in so many since I am a middle class, straight, white, female individual who resides in the U.S.) I really enjoy getting new insight and learning about people who differ from me. So to answer your question, for me at least, I do not need to relate to characters to enjoy a book because those are the types of books I gravitate towards: the ones that I do not related to, because that’s how I learn.

    I would also like to bring up that there have been books without ANY characters I have even liked, and I still enjoyed them. The best examples of these types of books would be many books in the thriller/suspense genre.

    Liked by 1 person

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  22. Definitely a good question! I agree – I don’t need to relate to the characters I read about it order to appreciate them. There is many a villainous character I cannot relate to at all, being less inclined to “watch the world burn”, but if they’re well written I can still easily find them compelling and captivating!

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