Why I Try Not To Create Likable Characters #wrtr2wrtr #amwriting
Like with most writers, I started out writing from the point of view of semi-Mary Sues–characters who were essentially somewhat blank, passive, and no more than tools that the reader can use to project themselves into the world. I think I’ve always known not to create outright Mary Sues, so I ended up with a lot of male characters.
One of my first ones, who went by the name of Ronald, was the epitome of a pushover. He was friendly, calm, quiet, loyal, and basically the sort of guy you would want to be friends with. Oh, and his one fault? He loves to blame himself. I know–just thinking about it makes me throw up a little in my mouth.
I went through several rounds of creating characters like these until I realized something crucial: likable characters do not create conflict. Well…not by themselves, anyway…
At some point, I got bored of creating cast after cast of likable characters doing nothing but standing around teasing each other and decided to throw some rogues into the mix.
Pablo Santos, hero of Birthplace, was my first attempt at creating a character that did not fit into this “gee, I’d love to be friends with him” mold. The response to him was surprising, to say the least. People did not like him and refused to give him a chance, with some being convinced that he had no redeeming qualities.
Yet from my point of view, Pablo was perhaps the easiest character I have ever written. Strangely unapologetic, with an opinion louder than most people are used to, I loved him from the start. He isn’t bad, just extremely honest, with perhaps a little too much arrogance and smirking for people to be comfortable with. What I loved the most about writing from his point of view were the changes he went through during the course of the novel. He showed me how a character can learn and grow, while at the same time retaining enough of himself to feel real. I could never think from Ronald’s point of view, but Pablo–all I have to do is flick a switch in my head and he comes to life. I feel the same way about Enosh, who has the same devil-may-care attitude and penchant for pissing people off.
Because the thing is, real people are not perfect. They have their quirks and faults in their logic, and yes, they are not always going to appeal to everyone. But if I am to continue down this path of honest writing, then I have to embrace the fact that my characters are going to have ugly thoughts, that they’ll be selfish and not always going to act responsibly, and that in fact they’re going to do downright stupid shit.
Characters are who they are. Sometimes, they are born out of necessity, only developing their own stories and personalities as you progress through the story. Sometimes, the story is built around them. I think this is worth remembering when a writer goes through the inevitable dilemma of readers who clamour for likable personalities even if they won’t necessarily make the plot progress. Be true to the story, and let the pieces fall where they may.