1. CheckeredFoxglove
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    CheckeredFoxglove Member

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    Is it a bad idea to have an unlikable MC?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CheckeredFoxglove, Sep 29, 2013.

    My MC is intended to go through a big character development arc where he starts out a self-centered, flaky, spoiled teenager, and turns into a solid, competent, responsible adult due to Events and Relationships. But I started this thing with him as the PoV character for the first chapter or two, and even I'm starting to hate him. He's such a nasty little brat. I mean, you're not supposed to like him... but perhaps he shouldn't be the PoV character for the beginning? I don't know. Does anyone know any stories I could look at for reference, where a PoV character starts out completely unlikable?
     
  2. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The thing about such characters is that they, first, have to be interesting. No matter how amoral, nasty, and self-centered they are, they have to be interesting to the reader, and have some characteristics that readers admire enough to hope for their redemption. Your problem may be that you haven't given anything to build on. You've provided a bastard, when the reader wants a loveable bastard, a bit of a scoundrel with a good heart, so to speak. In your character's case, he's young, and growth is expected, so faults can be tolorated, if there are virtues, as well.

    Think of storytelling at its most basic. Someone has a life that's predictable. Something happens to disturb that life and the protagonist is no longer satisfied. S/he now wants/needs something badly. So badly that it becomes the focus of their life. But bastards that we are, we don't let them solve the problem. We throw up roadblocks and disaster. We make the protagonist work hard to fix a problem only to find that it made things worse. We force them to grow and change, and to endure a series of disasters as their options narrow and the certainty of failure grows, until it's all or nothing with nothing being the most likely outcome. They may have lots of bad characteristics, but they're so busy solving problems that we don't have the time to condemn them. And by disaster I mean something they view as such. The story could be about saving the world or getting a date for the prom. The general format—the loss of satisfaction and the struggle to achieve it—is the same either way.

    The life a protagonist must live kind of thing changes you. And one of the reasons to have an unlikeable protagonist at the start is that his/her growth is unwanted from the character's POV, but is necessary to make them a complete person, from the reader's viewpoint. Look at Han Solo, as presented in the first Star Wars film, or Mal, the caption of Firefly. Both are "bad boys." Opportunistic, slightly dishonest when the opportunity presents, but at their core, honest and unyielding—admirable characteristics.
     
  3. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (by Stephen R. Donaldson) has a protagonist who's generally not likeable, by his words, attitudes and actions.

    One thing to consider, if the POV character isn't likeable at all, is for there to be consequences for his actions which might have the reader think along the lines, "What did you think was going to happen, punk?" or "Got you you deserved, you little jerk.)
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Just finished Octavia Butler's, "Kindred" where the two main characters are moral opposites. You keep expecting the ungrateful bastard to see the light and in the end, he doesn't. It was an effective technique. The more moral one is, however, also a more main character than the other.
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Kindred.... excellent stuff. :)

    I think it's a bad idea to have an un-relatable MC.
     
  6. Complex
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    Complex Senior Member

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    An unlikable MC is different from an unrelatable one. Let's play a game. A character that is a criminal, mass murderer or twisted freak - unlikable for most, but can the reader relate to the MC? Few people complain about anti-heroes and such, even in popular media, but most strike the readers as being human representing some ideal, freedom or other quality that the reader desires. John Smith may work a 9-5 for twenty years, but a book that puts him in the shoes of a disgruntled cop-turned-gangster could satisfy the desire for freedom, excitement and meaning that the reader lacks in there own life. In short, if you cannot relate or understand the MC, you have failed, but even the saltiest sailor or lowest scumbag can be a great MC for the readers to view your world through.
     
  7. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    As long as he's relateable and we can connect to him in someway. A good example would be Squall from Final Fantasy 8, he starts off as a cold hearted dick to everyone but over the course of the game he turns into a more accepting and caring person. However he isn't entirely unlikeable, his quips can make you laugh at times, but he was made to be a jerk.

    I good example of an unlikeable unrelateable character would be Lightning from Final Fantasy 13, she starts off as a cold hearted, unlikeable bitch and continues to be a cold hearted, unlikeable bitch with very very little progression for a majority of the first 20 hours. I couldn't relate to her, her quest, her feelings, or anything about her, she was just a cold person to everyone around her with no explanation. The only thing I was certain of is that I badly wanted her to die, I sold the game to a friend.

    To give context to your character and their world will help the reader stick along for the ride.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That was my point. ;) I think much ado is made of "likable" v. "unlikable" MC's when the two words are so subjective as to be void of meaning.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Anything by Butler is well worth the read.
     
  10. Smitty91
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    Smitty91 Member

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    It would probably be a good idea to change the POV from the main character to another character, such as a side character or a family member or a friend or the like. The main character does not have to be likable, but the reader have to be able to relate to him/her and has to be able to connect with them on a personal level, both emotionally and mentally. As for your question, there is a fanfic that starts out with the main character being a complete dick. His story arc details his learning how to be a better person and appreciating the people in his life. I'll give you the link to the story, though I should warn you that this story is quite lengthy, well over 300,000 words. Read at your own pace.
     
  11. Uberwatch
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    Uberwatch Active Member

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    Characters, even protagonists could do all sorts of bad stuff and have bad behaviors, but if they're interesting, it makes them a good MC.
     
  12. SarahD
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    SarahD Member

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    I personally don't think it is a bad idea to have an un-likeable mc. I know I've read things where I'm just itching for the bad guy to win because they are much more interesting that the tradition good guy mc, because un-likeable they may be but they're usually more believable than mcs who already have it figured out.

    Besides, if you're planning on showing their journey then you can't have them already redeemed unless you're going to interweave the teenage voice with the older voice of an adult with hindsight.
     
  13. Theodora Miller
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    Tony Stark (Iron Man) was a character everyone would hate---and then you found yourself relating to him. He was introduced in the late 1960's, as opposition to the Vietnam war mounted, and he was a weapons manufacturer. No-one wanted to root for a weapons manufacturer. But he hated himself throughout the comics. He was far more comfortable as Iron Man than as himself. Which of us doesn't prefer our mask to our real self? (Fun fact, I've never read a single Marvel comic book, I just read a lot of meta as an Avengers fangirl.)

    I love angry, bitter, awful main characters. You've got BBC Sherlock's caustic title character Sherlock Holmes (who's nothing like the real, original, Doyle Sherlock Holmes but I'll leave that to a meta rant); you've got the rude, serial killing Winchester brothers; the Thor fandom was hijacked by Loki fans; the Hannibal fandom adored Hannibal Lecter; I'm currently writing a script about a bunch of vigilante assassins, one of whom is knowingly dating a vigilante serial killer, and my friends have already begun pestering me to finish it.

    Make us learn to like your character, but I'd suggest sowing the seeds of goodness from the start. Or self-hatred, that works just as well as a kernel of goodness for most readers.
     
  14. BillC
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    BillC Member

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    Eustace Scrubb?
     
  15. The Monster of Surrealton!
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    The Monster of Surrealton! New Member

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    "Does anyone know any stories I could look at for reference, where a PoV character starts out completely unlikable?"

    Watch Zeta Gundam. Camille Bidan starts off a whiny, arrogant teenager who is regularly slapped because of his rotten attitude, and in the 9th episode, gets even worse. By the end, his experiences during the war change him into a different person, though he is still occasionally whiny.

    If you can't make it through 50 episodes, just watch the first 9 or so. For the character's flaws, including his initial motivations, there are moments that make him somewhat sympathetic.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think anyone has yet mentioned Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever yet in this thread (author Stephen R, Donaldson). He starts be raping the young woman who rescues him in his first hours in the Land. Basically, he's an utter shit, and yet he is the foretold savior who will thwart Lord Foul in the White Gold trilogy.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I second Thomas Covenant. Also, read Ian Graham's "Monument." Another fantasy. Good book. The viewpoint character is thoroughly unlikeable.
     
  18. ShaunChattey
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    ShaunChattey Member

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    Look at Stargate. Stargate makes soo many villains the best characters. Albeit not main characters I think you could learn alot from their wealth of lovable villains!
     
  19. DanM
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    DanM Member

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    Tricky subject - unlikable characters need to be handled very carefully imo. Not everyone can pull off American Psycho. I like to think that if a character is interesting to watch, and the writing is good enough, then the reader will follow.

    Aristotle, however, would disagree - in the Poetics he says that characters should be (morally) good because people don't want to see villains making fortune from misery.

    But then again, a lot of literature has been written since his day, so...
     
  20. Darrell Standing
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    Darrell Standing Member

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    I think an unlikable MC has to be funny at least. The MC in "American Psycho" is a serial killer and thoroughly vain and unlikable...but e is quite funny too so that's what kind of kept me reading....plus the fact it was really well written.
     
  21. Gilborn
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    Gilborn Member

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    Hamlet - is a stuck up spoiled brat, that his been off spending his daddy's money at school. He's pretty much a useless prick at the beginning and redeems himself by the end of the play. However, while he is a prick his uncle is worse and his mother is whore, so it makes him seem better by comparison.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, "“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”

    Not a book; however The Libertine staring Johnny Deep and directed by Laurence Dunmore, is a great example. Disregard all of the reviews you read that say it sucks, they are wrong! They spent something like £23K on dildos alone, I think that's enough said.
     
  22. nightbane44
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    nightbane44 New Member

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    Not a book but in tales of the abyss the MC Luke starts out as a spoiled brat not knowing anything about how the world works bur halfway through an event causes him to have a moral over haul and he tries to be nicer to everyone.
     
  23. Gilborn
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    Gilborn Member

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    Wow, I wasn't thinking, look at Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
    Thank you Nightblane44 for sparking my memory.
     

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