As readers, we read characters we dislike all the time. That’s what villains are for, after all. They are characters we love to hate. They create horrible problems for the characters we love.
We read characters we can’t identify with and that makes us dislike them. Or they make stupid choices we don’t understand. Whatever the reason, as readers, reading about characters we dislike is common. It makes it hard, sometimes, to get into the story because characters we don’t like or can’t understand pull us out of the story and leave us frustrated.
Sometimes this is because they aren’t written well and the author gives them negative character traits in an attempt to make them well-rounded. Other times we can’t identify with characters because they are too young or too old. Not many adults who read Twilight liked Bella Swan. She was a whiny, indecisive 17 year old girl.
So, as a reader, it can happen where you stumble upon a character who is too air-headed, too boring, or just all around unlikable.
As a writer, can this happen to a character in your own story?
Usually, we love our characters. It’s why writers write series, so they don’t have to say goodbye. Or we edit the same piece over and over again because we don’t know how to let go. It’s common for sequels to be written without being planned because a secondary character steals every scene and demands their own story to be told.
When I was writing book one of my series, Callie Carter started off as any of my female characters. She needed a change. Her backstory wasn’t as horrible as some other characters I’ve created, but she still was unhappy and she was using the two week vacation in Rocky Point to not only be a bridesmaid, but also to take a break from life and figure things out. She’s in-your-face and assertive. She goes after what she wants (unless it has to do with her job and her dad).
When she meets Mitch Sinclair, she knows she wants him. And when she sees how Mitch lives because of something that happened years ago, she promises fix it. Even if he doesn’t want her help–even if he doesn’t want to fix it.
She knows best.
Or she thinks she does.
Mitch falls for her quickly. He falls for her effervescence. He falls for her joy of life. And he falls for her because when she looks at him, she sees him, not the accident that scarred him. He’ll do anything for her.
She asks a lot of him because she wants to help him live a better life, and she pushes him out of his comfort zone.
I hated her for it.
She knew Mitch needed a change, and change can hurt. Bad. While trying to help him, defend him, as no one else had, she hurt him. And I couldn’t make her stop.
I cried for Mitch and what Callie was putting him through. But the story demanded it. Because while I hated Callie for hurting Mitch over and over, she was right, too. He couldn’t keep living that way. And slowly, he realized it, too.
But Mitch and his parents went through a lot to come to that point.
All while I was writing her and what she was doing, I hated her. I kept telling her to leave him alone, that if he was happy with the way things were, why was she picking on him? Making things worse for him?
Their story is done, and they both learned valuable lessons in life and love, but I still don’t like her very much. And I still don’t think she treated Mitch very well, even though he fell in love with her, and she was right about a lot of things in the end.
It made me wonder if other writers are sometimes in the same situation. Writing protagonists they dislike.
And it also made me wonder how that affected my writing. Will it show through that I hated how she treated him? After all, she loved Mitch. She wanted to help him. Everything she did was to help give him the life she thought he deserved to live.
Does her love for him show through? I hope so.
It was a different experience for me, to not be totally enamored by one of my characters. Usually, I love them all.
As a reader, it also made me wonder about the female characters I’ve read and disliked. I don’t normally like characters who are pig-headed and stubborn. Or make wrongful judgments about people. That seems to be a common trope in romance: female characters jumping to wrongful conclusions about the heroes, and it sets off a chain reaction that doesn’t get resolved until the heroine is proven incorrect about the man she fell in love with despite her attitude. The whole premise of books like that wouldn’t even exist if the heroine hadn’t been so blind in the first place. Plots like that are frustrating. I also don’t identify with characters who won’t listen to other people’s opinions because I’m open-minded.
Callie was stubborn. She thought she knew best. Even when everyone around her was telling her that she didn’t understand the situation.
Maybe my readers won’t feel the negative emotions I felt writing her. Maybe they’ll understand more where she’s coming from.
We all have good intentions and even the best of us have trouble with the executions of our actions that come from kindness.
“You were only trying to help.” We’ve all heard that a time or two and by the end of the book, Callie has, too.
Callie is my first character I’ve written I don’t identify with. It’s not a bad thing. Maybe it means as a writer I’m moving out of my comfort zone and that can only help me stretch my wings. All of us writers put pieces of ourselves into our characters and with Callie’s stubbornness and shortsightedness, she’s nothing like me.
I would never ask someone to do things they didn’t want to do. She wasn’t manipulative, though, and she wasn’t using Mitch’s love for her to make him do things he didn’t want to do. She truly cared for him. But she could have gone about helping him in a different way. But then the story would have been different, and Callie wouldn’t have learned the lessons she learned to help her stand up to her dad. In the end she was finally able living the life she wanted.
I’d like to think my story worked out exactly how it should have.
And I hope that does mean I’m growing as a writer. Callie was who the story needed her to be. I let it happen. I had faith in my writing ability. I had faith Callie would be the character she needed to be. Who Mitch needed her to be.
Had I tried to push her into a mold, maybe she would have read insincere, or maybe she would have read flatter because I would have diluted her spark.
Callie made me uncomfortable, but I hope readers can see the good she was trying to do–the good she did do.
I hope readers love Callie as much as Mitch does.
I’ll keep writing characters I may not like or agree with.
Because it’s not my story I’m writing.
It’s theirs, and I have to trust them to tell it.
Tell me what you think! Have you written characters you haven’t necessarily identified with? How did it feel? How did you resist rewriting them to fit your preconceived mold?
Let me know!
My books are wide. Find them at your favorite retailer!
Don’t Run Away: books2read.com/dont-run-away
Chasing You: books2read.com/Chasing-You
Running Scared: books2read.com/running-scared
Wherever He Goes: books2read.com/whereverhegoes1
All of Nothing: books2read.com/allofnothing1
The Years Between Us: books2read.com/the-years-between-us
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Yes, I have a really nasty Character who makes me wash my hands after typing his voice.
Yikes! But that sounds great! He sounds like a character that will evoke a lot of emotion from your readers. That’s fantastic!
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I may have gone a little too far with this in my last novel, “Sycophants.” One reviewer found some of my characters “despicable,” when I only meant to make them reasonably flawed.
It’s easy to get carried away! I hope only a small percentage of your readers feel that way. I also may have gone too far with Jax in All of Nothing, but even though he’s a jerk, I still loved him and loved writing him. We can’t please everyone. Good luck with future readers! 🙂
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I’ve written some pretty ugly characters, one in particular in Monsters, but I find it impossible to write the character if I’m judging them. I have to find a way to understand their motivation, as messed up as it might be, and allow them to be what they are. Even if it makes for some ugly moments in the stories.