Nothing is as important as a likeable narrator. Nothing holds a story together better.
A while ago, a discussion was started in a Young Adult writer group I belong to, about the types of characters we love. The question was asked, do you prefer a likeable main character or one that may not be likeable but who is intriguing. The responses got me curious as to how other writers feel.
To give you some examples, do you prefer your main characters to be the Scarlett O’Hara’s of the world - spoiled, manipulative and conniving? Or do you like the Harry Potter’s – good-natured and kind, despite being picked on?
Now, I’m not talking secondary characters here. Every book is going to have its villain. I mean the main “hero” of the book. This one had me thinking a little bit, because I have always heard that your main character has to be likeable. Who wants to read a story all about a character that no one likes?
Well, after thinking about it for a bit, I decided…a lot of people :) One member of the YA group brought up Scarlett O’Hara. Now, she definitely isn’t what I would call a likeable character. But she is intriguing. ‘Watching’ her get herself into all sorts of interesting situations is just fun. While in my writing I tend to go for the likeable main character, it is sort of fun to follow a completely unlikeable character…just to see what they’ll do next. Sure, I love Cinderella. But I would love to read about the ugly stepsister. It would be very interesting to get into her brain for once and see what’s going on in there.
And of course, I think even the less likeable characters often have some sort of redeeming quality. Even Scarlett pulled her designer boots up by their laces and dug her fingers raw in the onion fields when she had to. She eventually got her crap together without losing any of her spunk. So there is, as in most things, some overlap.
It’s a fine balance between intriguing and just plain detestable, so I imagine unlikeable characters are probably more difficult to write. But I might have to try my hand at it some time. It would be incredible to create a character that from the outside is just horrible…but is someone that people can’t get enough of.
Here are a couple others that I thought of…..Anakin Skywalker – you know he’s destined to be one of the badest bad guys out there, but man, I really liked him and definitely felt bad for the things that happened that turned him bad. Severus Snape – detested his character clear till the end when I found out just how amazing he is. But I loved to hate him. Definitely an intriguing character.
In your reading and writing, which do you prefer – a main character that is intriguing, or one that is likeable? Who are the characters that you love the most? And who are the ones that you love to hate?