unlikable characters

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Last week someone made an interesting comment in their critique of my chapter nine. The individual said she didn’t find one of my main characters, Rachael, very likable or sympathetic. She didn’t like Rachael as much as she did Lucian.

I don’t have the lady’s e-mail address so I can’t respond to her personally, but I would like to say thank you. Rachael isn’t a very likable woman. She had a hard life, and though she has to take responsibility for a lot of her circumstances, other events were completely beyond her control. She makes no excuses for either herself or for others, and if she’s caught in a weak moment, then it’s because her guard is down, which is rare.

Rachael has survived many traumatic events in her life. She has moved past being a victim and into being a survivor. While these incidents have made her stronger, she still has to learn to allow people to see her vulnerable side. There is something rough in Rachael’s core, and as she learns to move outside herself and mind the people in her care, she will become more likeable as a character.

However, there are times when having a woman like Rachael on your side can be a good thing. She’s not afraid of making tough choices, and when the wolves are at the door, she’s the woman you want to answer. While she’s not a nice character, she is certainly a good woman. She just has a more difficult time showing it.

So what about you: are all of your characters sympathetic to the reader? Do you have one of those characters that other people initially don’t like? Or do you believe that all main characters should be immediately likable in some way or another?

A great discussion on anti-heroines happened a little while back on Edittorrent with Alicia’s post entitled Anti-Heroines.

A couple of companion posts to Anti-Heroines are also at Edittorrent: First Thoughts About Don and Sex and Batman, An Anti-hero.


About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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8 Responses to unlikable characters

  1. Leslie says:

    Hi Teresa,

    I actually think initially unlikeable characters are fascinating to read – but among the hardest to write. For me, I really have to “like” my main characters in order to spend so much time with them. But if you can write a character like that and have readers slowly warm up to them once they understand their motivations, it can be a great thing.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Leslie! It’s so nice to see you. I’m like you, I enjoy reading an unlikable character and watching them grow, but they are terribly difficult to write. My scenes from Rachael’s point of view are often some the hardest chapters for me to write. I really hope you’ll come back again!

  2. My hope is that I’ve got characters who readers may not connect with at first, but will later find possess redeeming qualities that make it harder to root against them. We may not agree with what people do in real life, but in their minds, they have justifications for their actions. If we could walk a mile in their shoes, it would help explain those things. The beauty of fiction is that we get walk in a whole cast’s shoes and bring that stuff out.

    • Teresa says:

      I like being my evil characters sometimes too . . . bwhahahahaha — ahem.

      I really enjoy novel length stories, because they give me the opportunity to really explore the depth of my characters in ways that I can’t in short stories. That’s more of a personal problem, because I just haven’t learned the art of short story writing yet, although it is on my to-do list. Thanks for stopping by, Jonathan!

  3. Kelly Bryson says:

    I don’t think that your reviewer would have the same problems if she’d come in when Rachael cares for Peter. It is very obvious that Rachael is a good woman in a tight spot, to me at least:)

    I’ve had some comments about Lara being too weak, and she is…but how else do you start a character whose major struggle is to overcome her own frailty? I’ve adjusted the early scenes to show she knows what she wants to be and isn’t able to do it yet. Then she comes across as a flawed herione, not a wuss.

    I looked up wuss in the dictionary and it looks wrong. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it writtten out.

    • Teresa says:

      Even in chapter three with Peter, Rachael was still rather self-absorbed.

      Maybe you could do a blog post on how to carry a frail character from weakness to strength! That would be a great post. 😉

  4. lawrenceez says:

    Hi theresa,

    I think a lot of protagonists aren’t likeable, mainly because they’re complex beings with lots of conflicts and a quest that might not always be popular.

    Good luck with the rest of the novel.

    • Teresa says:

      I think you’re right, Lawrence. It’s our job as the author to make them, if not likable, at least understandable by the end of the novel.

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