1. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Getting behind an unlikeable person

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Garball, Apr 30, 2013.

    In one of my stories the MC is a very unlikable person, a complete misanthrope, the embodiment of how you feel about people and life while stuck in a traffic jam in the summer without air-condioning. He puts himself in a situation where the outcome is one that should only be reserved for Stalin and his ilk. My question: Would the general public have interest in reading a tragedy about a character they don't like as a person and be put in the situation where they hope the best for that person?
     
  2. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    I'd recommend humanizing the character, instead of just showing him as being a total dirtbag the entire time. Maybe give some insight as to why he acts the way he does, or show him doing something that's fairly redeeming - he doesn't exactly have to go around saving puppies, but even something minor can show that he's not totally evil.

    It's hard to give much advice without knowing what it is he's going through or why, but I hope that helps.
     
  3. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    maybe if he's that horrible and readers are rooting for his death give it to them, a slow torturous demise you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy
     
  4. cswillson
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    cswillson Member

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    Nancy Kress' Writer's Digest books, "Dynamic Characters," has a chapter on unsympathetic protagonists (Ch 14: "Do I Want To Know You?").

    BTDTBTTS
     
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  5. Sunny1000
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    Sunny1000 Member

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    I think if the character is just scum from the get-go and has no redeeming qualities people may not be able to empathise with them and see their death as a triumph rather than a tragedy.

    That said, the closest characters that spring to my mind that fit your description for me are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. In the end (and for most of the play) they were just both awful people but somewhere in my heart I was just hoping that perhaps they would snap out of it and stop being so horrid. They were established as falling from grace from being a personable and honorable couple to murderers, that was the tragedy. If Macbeth had been jerkface from the beginning with no background of him being a loyal knight I would have found his death a relief and I wouldn't have been able to "hope for the best" for him.
     
  6. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    re: unsympathetic protagonists

    How does that explain the huge success of Tony Montana in Scarface? That guy is a total scumbag from beginning to end, but he is one of the most popular characters according to a study of movie posters on walls.
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    One of the tricks is to give him a sense of humour. If he makes the reader laugh while he's doing horrible things, you've got a winner.
     
  8. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Everybody has human-like qualities. The most evil person may have a burning desire to keep all cats safe, for example, or may love their mother. Apart from the most two-dimensional kiddie-fare books and films, everyone has a redeeming quality.
     
  9. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    He started life as a prisoner in Cuba (not prison but a product of commie cuba who just wanted away) so from the outset he had our sympathy. Trying to escape the customs/emigration he got mixed up in the drug trade but he always had that insecurity. He was in love with a woman not his - her boyfriend/husband being an even bigger scumbag.

    He wasn't afraid of the big boys, the bent cops and he tooks these on without fear so again we wanted the bad guy to beat the even badder bad guys bt the more and more drugs he took he lost sympathy with the viewer, especially when he beat his wife, sold out his friends etc.

    Then again, we all love the underdog, not matter the game...
     
  10. foiler
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    foiler Member

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    I think it's ideal to start with an "unlikable" character. Who is more unlikable than Ebeneezer Scrooge of Dicken's Christmas Carol. The entire story was about how Scrooge went from being a jerk to a decent human being. The bigger the jerk, the more satisfying the change. Or, in the case of the villain, the bigger the jerk, the more satisfying the "comeuppance".

    If you want to start off with a jerk but you don't want your audience to hate him, give the audience a clue that this character wasn't always like this, or has the capacity to change.

    Have you ever seen Casablanca? At the beginning of the movie, Rick doesn't lift a finger to help an acquaintance escape the Nazis. Rick says, "I stick my neck out for no one." Immediately after that, he walks up to the bar and a drunk women is angry at him because Rick doesn't return her love. Rick is callous and practically ignores her. He throws her out of the bar, ordering the bartender to take her home, but then Rick does something interesting; he looks at the bartender and tells him, "... and come right back." It's a funny line, but it shows us that Rick isn't a complete heel. He doesn't want anyone taking advantage of a drunk women. A few moments later, Rick sits down with some Nazis and the Nazis say that they know, years ago, Rick fought on the side of the Loyalists in Spain. Very subtle, but you can see that Rick wasn't always callous. He still isn't completely callous. There is some hope for Rick.
     
  11. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Right from the start Rick has a sadness about him, it turns out to be the love he lost as we know. Maybe it was just fantastic acting but we loved him no matter who he didn't help, who he drank with or who he wanted to turn his back on. We knew he was a good guy through his melancholy and his love for S(h)am; he wanted him to be happy, to get back his love, to live happily ever after. My number 1 film of all time!
     
  12. BoxOfHappy
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    BoxOfHappy New Member

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    To some degree, I don't think likeability really matters--almost all of my characters are despicable, especially my MC--what I think it comes down to the most is relatability. In my opinion, the one 'redeeming' quality of a character can be something that connects him/her to the rest of us; something that keeps him human, and therefore capable of change and redemption. One trick I use with my MC is that, even though he is a callous jerk, he is a callous jerk to characters that the rest of us would want to push off a cliff. We 'get it', so to speak. Others way of doing this can be examples that others above have mentioned, like a past tragedy or a minor likeable trait.

    Sometimes what matters so much isn't the character itself, but also the world it's in and who surrounds it. If we can somehow relate or sympathize with its circumstance, then whether we'd want to be friends with the character or not can be made irrelevant. It's like hating the resume and interview, but liking him/her in the workplace.

    -Boh
     
  13. foiler
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    foiler Member

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    Same here! No doubt, Bogart's performance was above and beyond. He exceeded the promise of one of the greatest scripts ever written.
    On top of that, you had Claude Rains also deliver an outstanding performance. It was like a perfect storm in movie land.

    Perhaps you're right; this wasn't an ideal example because there was a magic about Bogart. No one could dislike him.
    Even in "The Treasure of Sierra Madre", no matter how nasty Dobbs got, you still liked Dobbs.

    You, my friend, have excellent taste!
     
  14. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    The reader doesn't have to root for the character to attain their goals, but can still root for them in other ways. For example, if you write the character in such a way that the reader sympathizes with their "bad" decisions, but also believes there is a chance that they can become "good," then your readers will root for them to become good.
     
  15. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    If a doubt about characterisation appears, study real life. In this instance, identify the people in your life that you dislike, but respect, and wonder what it is about them that makes you respect them regardless of your personal antipathy. Write down what these things are. You'll start to see a pattern (I won't spoil it). You can then circle the ones that would go with your story/character, and apply them to your character development.

    A few that seem to work in almost all instances is humour, particularly sarcasm, especially that dry, ready wit that makes people laugh when they know they shouldn't. It's sort of a mind-trick: an illicit joke between a character and reader makes the reader feel 'closer' to that character, especially if the other characters ('people') in the scene disapprove. You see this in circles of friends all the time. Another one is perseverence or determination. Take the new Tomb Raider game, for an example: didn't you feel a lot more supportive of her after she deals with her own injuries in the helicopter, despite the intense pain? If you have a character who's funny with balls of steel, chances are the reader can get behind them, even if they're a bit of a tool. Let's face it, actually: most action heroes are tools. They're still popular.
     
  16. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    make him slightly relateable so that there's a slight connection between reader and character
     

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