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I'm plotting a proposed novel at the moment so could you please give me the name(s) of any successful novel(s) you may know of where the central character is portrayed as a rather unattractive person in the early chapters. Then something is revealed about his past, not far from the end of the book, and this shows the man in a new light and makes the reader sympathise with him and understand his previous unattractive actions. In my proposed novel I could in fact reveal the man's past at any time in the plot, but feel I'd like to delay this as long as possible so as to introduce it as a sort of twist not far from the end of the book. But I obviously don't want to antagonise the reader if delaying the twist will spoil things. I know it is permissible to have nasty characters change, during stories, to become nice people (e.g. Scrooge) but I feel what I have in mind is a bit different.
I hope you may be able to help and thank you in anticipation.

Answer
Hello, Gwyn!

"...the central character is portrayed as a rather UNATTRACTIVE person in the early chapters. Then something is revealed about his past, not far from the end of the book, and this shows the man in a new light and makes the reader sympathise with him and understand his previous UNATTRACTIVE actions."

'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley.

'Il Buio E Il Miele (Scent of a Woman)' by Giovanni Arpino.

'Zorba The Greek' by Nikos Kazantzakis.

Any autobiographical novel by Charles Bukowski.

The works of Henry Miller, a master of the autobiographical novel, if taken not as individual novels but together as a cohesive unit, are deeply telling of a bitter, ruthless man's journey in search of his most spiritual self.  The character arc is amazing!

Gwyn, above find a cross section of titles from different time periods in literature, different philosophies, and each a study of the adjective, 'unattractive', from a different point of view.  Let's take a quick look at each one:

'Frankenstein' is physically unattractive, a real monster.  Yet, we learn over the course of the book this 'monster's' deep struggle to become a beautiful mind; one that, in the end, overshadows his ugliness.

'Il Buio E Il Miele (Scent of a Woman)' is not an unattractive middle-aged male, and if you dig Pacino's film portrait (brilliant), and you like medium-short guys with dark hair and dark eyes, then the story is one of an emotionally unattractive male whose ugly actions slowly give way to a being of depth, desire, and honor once lost but found in the end.

'Zorba The Greek' is an unattractive, stinking filthy drunk, and a womanizer in direct contrast to his all-encompassing, attractive passion for the journey we call 'life'.

Bukowski is truly one of the most hideous, unattractive men on every level you will ever wish you had never met.  However, through very loose plots (if any), he demonstrates mankind's search for grace in all the wrong places - behold, he is crippled yet he glories on in his unattractive way.  He is noted for his poetry as well as his stories and novels.

Henry Miller, the son of a tailor from New York City, begins his adult life as a bitter, arrogant, con artist; a shark, blood-thirsty for sex and his next meal.  By the end of his writing career he has found love of self, respect for humanity, joy in living, a little bit of zen, and the spirit behind creation - his own and the universe's.  It is quite a tale and spans at least twenty books or so (that we know of): novels, story collections, etc.

"I could in fact reveal the man's past at any time in the plot, but feel I'd like to delay this as long as possible so as to introduce it as a sort of twist not far from the end of the book."

Fine, this must be your decision as the aritst.  However, don't delay so long that you don't have the space to build up to and develop the protagonist's final noble act of life affirming inspiration - else you fail to demonstrate your character arc.

How much space do you have?  If your name is Stein, Colette, Jong, Nin, Woolf, Morrison, etc., you have all the space you want.  But, if your name is new and untested, as an investment, a publisher will want your raw manuscript to come in at no more than three-hundred pages.

Another title just hit me, but I don't have time to go into it here and now - 'Ironweed' by William Kennedy.  How long did the author wait to reveal his protagonist's secret?  Not long, and it made the book very powerful.

Gwyn, I hope this gives you some food for thought, and if you feel you received what you came for, let All Experts know, and they will let me know.

Youngbear Roth, Executive Editor
The Success Trust Literary Family
http://www.successliterary.com  

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M.L. 'Max' Roth, Executive Editor

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My specialist area is literary and philosophical fiction. I am pleased to answer all queries regarding story, plot, character arc and development, environment, structure, theme, subtext, and conflict.

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