Unlovable Characters

In our continuing quest to write 750 words per day for a month, today we will look at unlikeable main characters.

Which One is Unlovable? The Eye of the Beholder
Here’s the thing: readers need to LIKE your character. Why else would they spend hours walking in their shoes? But what if your character is in mental anguish, or like to hurt puppies, or is a jerk to every girl he dates? How do you get the reader on your side?

Donald Maass, in How to Write the Breakout Novel, says to make this type character self-aware. They know what they are doing is wrong, they acknowledge it. They take the sting out of the behavior by telling the reader they understand it is unacceptable. Nevertheless, they must do it. And of course, you’ll then add in the reasons why this behavior is reasonable.

The date jerk was dumped when he was 13 and has never gotten over it.
The guy in anguish is grieving over the loss of his family to a drunk driver. The guy who hurts puppies–oh, that’s a hard one! How WOULD you justify that? Oh, isn’t that the story, OF MICE AND MEN?

A second way to turn a jerk into a lovable character is to have someone demonstrate that they do indeed love him or her. Scarlett O’Hara is jealous, conniving and a drama queen. But the family’s nanny still loves her. Because the nanny loves her, we feel more tender toward Scarlett.

Today, write about an unlovable character.

  • They must say, do and think awful things.
  • Then, soften the character by having someone do a loving act toward them.
  • Soften the character farther by having him or her acknowledge the errors of his or her ways.

Think like a writer: make me want to read about that unlovable character.