1. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    Unlikable Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by criticalsexualmass, May 5, 2014.

    I've written and edited a short novel, it's my first one so I expect none of it to ever be published. Still, I want it to be the best it can be, and the MC has become very real to me. Sadly the MC is not someone that a reader is going to cheer for. He was, for most of his life, a very good man. As he aged he became more cynical. Then in his early 40's he falls apart and becomes a criminal. Not the "Ocean's 11" type of gentleman criminal, but the type that decides to murder someone, rob a bank, and flee the country to live off his thefts.

    I find that I like writing about this character, and may want to go back to the work and totally rewrite it someday. So my question for the forum revolves around how to make this character into something that can carry a book. Should I try to find a way to make him more likable? Should I go the anti-hero route and make him the type of train wreck that a reader can't look away from? Should I go "Clockwork Orange" and try to turn it into some type of social commentary? I picture my story line as a version of "Falling Down" except my character plans his acts, thinks he's smarter than everyone else, and is very deliberate whereas "Falling Down" is a spur of the moment snap and short-term quest.

    Other options that I haven't put out there? I've been told to kill the whole idea but I really feel there's a good story with this guy.
     
  2. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    Does your novel show him being a good person first and tell the story of him slowly degenerating into this evil son of a b***h, or does it focus entirely around him being evil? I think he needs to have a character trait that will make the reader sympathize or like him, even if he is evil: He could be funny, remorseful in a really tragic way, or just downright psychotic to the point of being quite fascinating like the joker. Could you try entwining his story with another character's? If he really is a bad guy then you could always make him into one. I haven't read any of the books but Hannibal Lecter isn't exactly a sweetheart, if a cannibalistic serial killer can be a likeable character then I'm sure you can find a way to make your guy work.
     
  3. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If he has qualities readers can relate to, there's a chance it will be engaging and interesting for your readers even if he was a cynical son of a bitch.
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I think of House from House, MD. He's not a likeable person at all, and we would probably be better off not meeting him, or someone like him in real life, but people seem to really enjoy him in the show. Maybe give the guy moments that shows that deep down, beneath all that cynicism and bitterness, there's still a compassionate person inside? Or have the guy feed off of our base desires? God knows that there are plenty of fictional characters that are not nice people, but their actions, their demeanor makes me want to root for them in some way. They're not book characters, but I'll discuss them.

    House, as I said before, was not a nice person. Even in the rare moments when he showed a decent side, you could always tell he was in it for the self-glory, for the challenge. Yet his personal history and his rage/self-loathing when he failed to solve a medical case made you want to root for him all the better. It spoke to our desire for victory, for self-congratulations and the anger we feel when we don't get that satisfaction. We want to win, we want to be on top, and this is what House demonstrated.

    Vegeta from Dragonball Z. OK, long story short, he was the arrogant prince who had an identity crisis because he couldn't understand why he, a man who by birthright should've been universally the strongest man alive was outclassed by a low-level warrior. He wasn't nice either, and he's made it painfully obvious to everyone he met how little he thought of them. What got him fans was his neverending quest to recapture his former glory of being on top, of not being weaker than the low-level warrior. Just like House, he wanted to be the victor, to be on top. In this case, he wanted to be as he once was: the most powerful man in the universe, who, to quote him, had "whole civilizations tremble at the sound of my name." He was once on top, and when he was taken down a notch, fought like hell to get back to the top.

    Reaver from Fable 2 and Fable 3? Debatable. Whether it was because he was just about the only character in the entire series that had some personality or not, there was something about him I liked. He was smug, arrogant, sure of himself and his personality and he made that very clear to you. He was like Draco Malfoy, except, for some reason, I liked him. Other players hated him, but I was among the few who actually didn't mind him. I think what made him likeable to me was because as cold and haughty as he was, the way he talked, his demeanor was so polite and charming that you could almost have said he was lamp shading the whole idea of the unlikeable hero. That and he also joined your quest for a personal reason: the main antagonist had attacked his manor and nearly killed him, and for that, Reaver wanted the antagonist to pay. To him, you were just the vessel with which to get him there, and through his monologues, made the entire final half of Fable 2 sound like it was all about him and his personal quest, rather than you.

    Long story short, I think it's their motivations and their actions that determine whether or not you can make your unlikeable character likeable to the audience.
     
  5. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see why you can't start his spiral from the get go. By how his life changes from then onward, we can infer what kind of a nice guy he used to be.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    What makes you want to write about this guy? Focus on that, and I think you'll have your answer. Make your readers feel the way you do about him.
     
  7. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see why he has to be likeable. We would be the most hypocritical of readers if we could only relate to someone's "good" qualities. We relate to weaknesses, fantasies, anxieties, moral downfalls, dehumanization, inconsequentiality, "evil", because they are all part of the human experience. Don't create patchworks of your characters by stitching "redeeming" qualities to them - it's going to look artificial and superficial anyway you look at it.
     
  8. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    for me, an MC whether likeable or not has to have traits that people will link to, personally i don't like the Human Main Character in my current project as he is an arrogant pr*** who only thinks of himself and will happily murder anyone who so much as remotely annoys him, but has a lot of psychological stress from his history that made him so, which makes him a more plausible character to work with.

    think about that, is there something, in this guys past, that could be the key to having people on his side, even though he isnt the most liked character going?
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    He doesn't have to be likable for people to want to read about him. Others in this thread have given examples of fairly unlikable characters the audience is still fascinated by. Is Captain Ahab likable? No. Hannibal Lecter? No. Macbeth? No.

    I once wrote a screenplay about a teenage boy who, by his birth, was very famous. He became incredibly egotistical because of this, but he's weak inside, and he covers up his weakness by treating the people around him pretty badly. (The modern equivalent might be someone like Justin Bieber, but I wrote this before he got well-known.) He's definitely not likable, but I loved writing about him. I'm converting the screenplay into a novel (or maybe a novella) because he fascinates me. I hope readers will be fascinated, too, even if they find him kind of awful. :)
     
  10. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    I know the guy doesn't HAVE to be likable, but the character has to motivate the reader to turn the page. Thank you guys for all the input. There may be some jewels in that thar old manuscript that I can recycle someday
     

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