Writing Characters No One Likes
Writers have a hard job. We sit down to write a story that we hope will appeal to readers, and that our readers will ultimately enjoy. But, sometimes we have to write about characters we know our readers won't like, won't identify with, and probably won't understand. It's not fun, but it's necessary.
But, Amy, why do you have to write about characters I might not like?
Well, dearest reader, frankly, some people suck. It's a universal truth that spans all continents, all countries and all levels of existence. For every good, decent and amazing person you are blessed to know, there are those you wish you'd never met. But, you know what makes those people necessary? They help you grow. Learning to deal with them, interact with them, and overcome them is what helps to mold the person you are today, tomorrow and forever. The same is true of the character in the book that you might despise. Hate. Want to punch in the face. That character is important both to the reader and to the protagonist/main character.
Amy, I can't think of any characters I don't like.
Well, let me help you with that. Readers of Stephen King novels might remember Andre Linoge from Storm of the Century. He was a bad, bad guy. Intriguing. Evil. Necessary. Readers might have hated him for what he did to the poor people of Little Tall, but he was necessary to propel the story and to force the other characters to evolve. This example is a bit of a cheat, because I chose the obvious villain of the story. You're supposed to hate him.
Let's discuss another Stephen King work: The Gunslinger. While Roland Deschain is arguably the main character of the opus, he is also a wholly unlikable fellow. He is admittedly selfish, narcissistic and plagued by an obsession for his Tower that rivals the heroin addiction of his friend Eddie Dean. King did a masterful job of making Roland's flaws evident to the reader to the point where hating him becomes a second nature, but you're invested in him. You must see him through to the bitter end.
Have you ever written a character that readers hate?
Well, reader, that's a question for the readers. I love all my characters, even the ones who are irredeemable. If you forced me to choose a character that readers might hate I'd have to say that Edge from An Enduring Sun might be a good fit for this category. The "man" literally has no redeeming qualities. He is about as appealing as bikini wax with a hive of African Hornets. In other words, he's a nasty fella. But, he is necessary. Edge and his cohorts appear in An Enduring Sun not as the villains (though they certainly are) but also as squalid memory of a past my heroes would much rather forget. Stomping them out is cathartic for the guys in Aeon Project, and so Edge and his nastiness is necessary for my heroes to evolve as they must.
Ever want to redeem the irredeemable?
I LOVE villain to hero stories. Especially if the author can make the turnaround all the more surprising! My favorite book in ALL THE WORLD is Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh. She took a character that seemed downright evil in the first few books of her series, and she gave him a redeeming quality that turned that black-hearted devil into a hero that no reader could ever forget. I CRIED when his past and his reasons for his actions were revealed to the reader in the most masterful turnaround in all of writing history. It's a credit to an amazing writer who knows her characters so well that she could make him loveable. He's still not necessarily a "good" guy in the best sense of the word, but he's not evil and that's just swoon-worthy stuff for a romance reader.
So, to sum it up-- writing a character no one likes shouldn't be reserved for the villain only. Don't get me wrong, we need villains, too. But your characters will have a bigger impact if their flaws can be used to create evolution in the story and the other players in the game. Being able to create worlds where mean-spirited, nasty people live will make it much more realistic than a world where everyone farts rainbows and sings in the choir. Sometimes, the bad guy wins, too.
--From the desk of AR DeClerck, lover of all black-hearted rogues with secret hearts of gold. (But sometimes, a jerk is just a jerk!)