On Unlikeable Characters
Posted July 8, 2012on:
We’ve all read them. Some of us like them. Some of us are utterly turned off by them. Some of us find them deliciously alluring, and find that we crave them. Sounds like i’m talking about an anti-hero, but nope, I’m talking about antihero’s black sheep of a redheaded stepchild, the unlikeable character.
And the sixty four thousand dollar question is, how unlikeable does a protagonist have to be for the reader to truly and utterly dislike them, to the point of not giving a shit about the end of the story?
First of all, what makes a character unlikeable? It’s going to be different for every reader, because we all have our own very personal hangups, everyone is annoyed and/or deeply troubled by different things. Maybe the character never grows beyond a weakness and enjoys their own helplessness. Maybe they hate them self. Maybe they are a sociopath, or apathetic or a manipulative jerk or nihilistic or something more obvious like being cruel to animals. The thing is, if we read enough, we will all eventually run into a character we can’t stand.
Okay, so we’ve met a protagonist we can’t stand. The person eats live kittens for breakfast and then tasers kindergarteners followed by watching entire seasons of Keeping up with the Kardashians and Jerseylicious on TiVo. or something equally horrific.
Is it possible to enjoy a book that stars an unlikeable character, or is populated by them?
What’s been your experience with characters like that?
Is it sometimes a good thing to be exposed to characters and character traits that we can’t stand?
Since we’re talking about books, do you respond differently to unlikeable characters in movies or on tv?
spoiler of uselessness: I finished two books in the last 24 hours. I gotsta write me some reviews and post ‘em. One of the books involves a severely unlikeable character, someone who I had a hard time giving a rat’s ass about, and thus, a difficult time figuring out how i felt about the book, yet I found the book impossible to put down and zipped through it. The other features supremely delightful characters, and I adored every page of it. When you see the titles of the books, I hope to hell it is obvious which book is which.