“The Girl on the Train”: A Study on How NOT To Write Your Characters

The Girl on the Train has been one of the most hyped-up books of 2015; having comparisons with intense psychological thrillers like Gone Girl. But let me just get one thing straight: it’s not the next Gone Girl. That’s false marketing/word-of-mouth. Yes, both had unreliable narrators, both revolved around a murder, but where ‘The Girl on the Train’ fails terribly is in its character design.

"The Girl on the Train," by author Paula Hawkins. (AP Photo/Riverhead Books)
Image courtesy: http://www.yahoo.com; “The Girl on the Train,” by author Paula Hawkins. (AP Photo/Riverhead Books)

Plot Synopsis (taken from Goodreads):

“Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?”

My Take on the Book:

Don’t get me wrong, I really liked reading this book (to some extent). I love meself some “whodunnit” stories, and I was glued to it for two days straight. I couldn’t put it down.

Page Turner

But there are two reasons why it was such a page-turner for me:

  1. It was undoubtedly an engaging read. Although very predictable (I had to literally dumb-down myself in order to maintain that element of surprise for the big “killer-reveal” moment) but nonetheless it kept me on the edge of my couch as it had a really fast-moving plot. I don’t mean to sound crass but murder mysteries are FUN!
  2. I wanted to get it over with. I was 100 pages into the book when I truly started to hate the characters and I was just too invested in the story by then that quitting was just not an option anymore.

Every single character in this book is AN ASSHOLE! In Gone Girl it was different. Nick and Amy KNEW they were assholes! They were confident in their assholeness! Even though we loved to hate them but we still sympathized with them (on some level).

In ‘The Girl on the Train’ everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – is just horrible. The three female leads are mean, worthless, dull, pathetic selfish people who have no self-esteem and they always act like they are such damsels-in-distress. As for the male characters, when I think of them only two words come to my mind: disgusting pigs. I wished all of them were dead! You know you’re not reading a great book when you so deeply desire that everyone in it just jumps off a cliff.

JUST DIE
Look!! I found the perfect gif!!

Now I come to my main point.

As many of you know, a good book is like a building which is built up on two strong pillars: a great story and great characters. You can’t just take one out and expect people to love that infrastructure. That building will fall apart.

The Girl on the Train was somewhat enjoyable because of it’s story, but because of it’s poorly developed characters it just lost all credibility to me.

So for the writers out there, I would seriously advise you to read this book, because it is like attending a workshop on “How NOT to Write Your Characters”.

A lot of people loved this book and gave it 4-5 stars, and maybe you’ll be one of them too. But for me if I can’t empathize with the people you’re writing about, if I can’t fall in love with AT LEAST one character, then that whole experience was simply a wastage of time.

Potahto Rating:

2 out of 5 Potahtos

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22 thoughts on ““The Girl on the Train”: A Study on How NOT To Write Your Characters

  1. NooryaK September 20, 2015 / 6:39 PM

    Abeeha I just bought it .. I didn’t read all of your post coz I don’t wanna make an opinion before reading it 😦
    But looks like I have to buy another one now.. Gone Girl 🙂
    Oh and where do you buy books from ? as we both are from Lahore? 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • A.B Mood September 20, 2015 / 7:05 PM

      Hayee you just bought it?? AWESOME! Now I’ll get to see whether our opinions on books match or not 😛 Plz do tell me what you think abt it when you finish it!
      And as for the books, haha “Readings” zindabad! I can spend HOURS in that place! It’s right near Liberty. And my second stop is always Variety. Variety’s rates are a bit expensive sometimes :/
      But I didn’t buy The Girl on the Train, I borrowed it from a friend of mine. That’s one of the perks of having friends who love books 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • NooryaK September 20, 2015 / 7:10 PM

        hahaha… okay I’ll tell you 🙂
        yeah I know Readings but its far from my home so it gets a lul difficult to go there. but next time I will.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. tamtam012013 September 20, 2015 / 8:05 PM

    Thank God, I thought it was just me that was not a fan of The Girl on the Train. I didn’t know Gone Girl was a book and I watched the movie. Now I don’t know whether to read the book or not 😞

    Liked by 1 person

    • A.B Mood September 23, 2015 / 12:32 PM

      YAAASSSS someone else in my WP Family didn’t like TGotT!! It means my opinion wasn’t completely useless 😛

      And as for Gone Girl, if you ask me, the movie was a really close adaptation of the book.. So reading the book won’t do much for you now coz the endings spoiled for you 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • tamtam012013 September 24, 2015 / 1:06 AM

        I know! I normally love to read then watch but I had no indea it was a book adaptation till after! #suckfest

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Uday September 21, 2015 / 12:01 AM

    Oh my Abeeha, now do I read this book or not? I’ve had it on my to-read list for a while now since everyone who’s read Gone Girl seems to recommend it. But I hate when I don’t empathize with the characters too. The book just quickly loses steam for me. 😦
    But I guess, like you said, maybe I do need to read this book! Just to understand how NOT to write characters! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • A.B Mood September 23, 2015 / 12:34 PM

      I’d strongly suggest you do! You’ll also learn to not hop on the Hype-Train every time 😛 But no seriously, it’s not a badly-written book (kudos to Paula for that)..

      Liked by 1 person

    • A.B Mood September 23, 2015 / 12:37 PM

      I like reading books with mixed reviews, coz that way I get to decide which train-of-thought I belong to 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • A.B Mood September 23, 2015 / 12:39 PM

      Hahaha it depends! Do you have a lot of loose change lying around? 😀 But there’s always the option to read it online and THEN buy the book if you liked it.. I sometimes do that too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mustahibah September 23, 2015 / 1:16 PM

        Ohhkaay thanks 😀

        Like

  4. thatgirlwiththedarkhair September 23, 2015 / 4:27 PM

    Hi. Thank you for that review. I’ve not read either book, but have seen Gone, Girl. I agree that in order for a book to be memorable, the reader has to be invested in the characters and see a piece of themselves in those characters. Sometimes, I find it difficult to reconcile when a character that’s supposedly “the villain” also has some more redeeming qualities, as a reader, but that’s what makes a character great. If a character is only shown in one dimension, the character then falls flat, because, as you say, no one wants to root for that person.

    Nice thing to remember about character development; thanks for pointing it out. I don’t have much time to read things (that requires focus, and focus is tough for me because I have two young kids at home all day), but I appreciate hearing about what’s out there.

    Have a great week.

    Like

  5. C.S. Wilde September 24, 2015 / 10:58 PM

    One book I ain’t reading, then. It’s like…when one book is a super hit, there are thousands of book trying to copy it, or follow its steps. Some are quite good, but most of them?
    Naaaaah.
    By the way, kudos for the awesome Ophra gif, loved that! I shall take it for myself, madam.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. dgkaye September 25, 2015 / 2:11 AM

    Interesting review. I’m looking at this book on my shelf, waiting to read it with all the hype. Thanks for pointing this out. I’ll let you know what I think after I get to it (by Xmas I hope.) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Debby Carroll October 2, 2015 / 4:55 PM

    I started the book sample and felt, “Meh,” I don’t know if I need to keep reading this so I haven’t yet bought it. But I am with you about needing to like at least one character. People love, love, love Franzen’s books (The Corrections, Freedom) and I read them because of the hype but i HATED them. Why? I didn’t like one character. I have to like someone in order to connect with the book. Does that make me shallow? Perhaps. It doesn’t have to be the protagonist but it helps if it is. It’s funny, too. In writing a memoir I realized that readers who don’t like me (because I am the protagonist of sorts) probably won’t like the book. I wanted to tell the story because I think its a good one so I took a chance and hoped readers would either like me or think the story was compelling anyway. I couldn’t change what happened, though, because it’s a true story. But if I were writing fiction, I’d craft at least one character readers can embrace. Not sure if I’ll read Girl on the Train but I really appreciate the info from your review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A.B Mood October 5, 2015 / 12:01 PM

      Dear Deborah, I’m so pleased to hear this review helped you make a better decision about this book. Let me tell you, it’s not shallow if you decide to hate a book because the author didn’t make sure to create a likable character. I just started reading Infinite Jest (I hope you’ve read it), and I just finished the first chapter and it’s amazing that I’ve grown to absolutely LOVE Hal’s character in just a span of 10 minutes. Not that’s the power of building a GREAT character.
      And about your memoir, I’m sure you’ll be a very relatable and lovable character 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Debby Carroll October 5, 2015 / 5:04 PM

        I haven’t read Infinite Jest. But I’m off to check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.

        Like

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