Saturday, October 23, 2010
The Continuing Problem of Unlikable Characters
There is a good piece in THE GUARDIAN concerning the problem for writers with their readers when they create unlikable characters. The writer of this piece offers many examples of nasty characters who create an indelible impression --mostly because they are unlikable. The comment section is interesting too.
Likable characters are often dependent on unlikable characters to give them the means of showing their niceness. So, in effect, the nasty characters really run the show in most books. The unfaithful husband, the office gossip, the peeping tom next door, the unscrupulous business man, the abusive father, the priggish friend, the jealous wife. And on and on. What kind of tension is there in a story without a heavy dose of such characters. And in a well-written unlikable character, you will always find a bit of yourself. Is it that quality that makes them hard to take?
I am trying to think of a great novel where there is no nasty character. Even if that character is nature or war, it occpupies center stage. And what is unlikable for some readers may hold verisimilitude for others-the way life is.
And then there is a complex character like Olive Kitteredge (Strout), in the book of that title, who is both nice and not nice over the years and through various eyes. That's perhaps the greatest creation of all--someone with the complexity we all have.
Can you think of a successful book with no unlikable characters? What nasty character works for you best?