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Author Topic: Do you think a character can be sympathetic without being particularly likeable?  (Read 944 times)
« on: January 05, 2017, 05:49:33 AM »

This is a question I'm thinking about in regard to what to include in my query, but I mean to present it here in a broader context.

Writers are often urged to write characters that are likeable, someone readers can identify with, and whose goals the readers can root for.

I can think of various novels where the main character is compelling without being all that likeable. What makes them interesting to me is their complexity, their mix of good and bad, not whether I like them a whole lot.

Any thoughts?

Sarah Ahiers (Falen)
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« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2017, 07:26:09 AM »

"Likeable" characters are BS. It's almost always used against female main characters, and often against teen girl characters. If a male character sits in shades of gray, he's an anti-hero, or complex. If a female character does, she's a bitch, or whiny, and just unlikeable.

But yes, I can think of plenty of books with unlikeable MCs who the reader still roots for. ENTER TITLE HERE was my favorite from 2016.

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« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2017, 07:50:03 AM »

I totally agree with Sarah. When you think about it, neither Katniss nor Haymitch from The Hunger Games were particularly likable. Katniss was traumatic brain injured, PTSD-riddled and downright grumpy by the third book, but people still sympathized with her. Many of the serial killers - Dexter, Hannibal - are loved by viewers for their intensity, yet are obviously unlikable. I think the key making such characters complex. In real life, nobody is all good or all bad. Everyone has their reasons for what they do, no matter how twisted their reasons may seem to others. Hinting at the reason behind the action is what helps readers relate. The old, "Walk a mile in my shoes..." adage.
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« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2017, 10:27:36 AM »

when it comes down to it, if they are too likeable you end up with a Marysue or Stu...  People are flawed, no one is perfect, and some people are downright disgusting.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing a horrible disgusting character.

The Main Antagonist in "What Happened at Kate's House" is a spoiled brat of a rich kid who is also borderline abusive (mentally moreso than physical), Sadistic, and a womanizer.  in this book I give him one small redeeming bow out after all the horrible things he's done and that's all, and yet he's actually a very popular character.  Whether people love to hate him, or they think he's hilariously short sighted I think his chapters get the most comments on Wattpad about the character itself rather than the story.

From reading your query I can't see how else you can paint the character, and I would say don't try to tinge it one way or another.  She is doing bad things but she thinks that she is doing the right thing.  I would leave the query as is, as changing ti would risk misleading the agents.

Now, don't get me wrong, there is a point where you can cross that line and make a dislikable character too dislikable.  In fact there are some readers who probably already find your character dislikable as is, and to that I would just say roll with it.

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« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2017, 11:01:15 AM »

I sure hope so, as I tried to write one this novel. I don't expect my MC to be particularly likeable, especially in the beginning, but I hope people root for her. I imagine something similar with Lucie. From what I've read, I would be rooting for her for sure. Even as she frustrated me and I disagreed with her.

Also, seconding and "amen"ing everything Sarah said.

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« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2017, 07:03:32 AM »

I think so. I want to see characters I come to understand and whose story I'm invested in. I can want them to win even if they wouldn't be my first choice to have a coffee with, and I think many books fail when they try to make the MC everything to everyone (like Falthor said, that's when you get into Mary Sue territory).

That said, I also think it depends on the reader. I loved The Magicians trilogy, but have had friends get hung up on how unlikable many of the characters are and they couldn't sympathize with them. Some people do want that feeling of "this character could be me/my friends" and that's much easier with traditionally likable characters.

My very first note in the "issues" column of my editing notebook for my current WiP is "main character is unlikable" so this topic hits close to home at the moment haha

My writing twitter: katehavas
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