This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
By Anna Bell
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the critique that changed my life, where the person critiquing disliked my characters due to certain actions and lines of dialogue. Just how careful do we have to be when writing a character and how do we know if we’ve made them likable or unlikable?
This is a difficult theme to write about as you only need to look at how people behave in real life to see that people have different reactions to situations, tolerate more or less, and find different things attractive. After all, one woman’s prince is another’s frog. How does this impact on our fictional characters? We’re obviously not going to be able to please everyone, but perhaps we should take a closer look at how our characters behave.
On a recent edit of my sequel to Don’t Tell the Groom, my editor highlighted a worrying line that Penny’s partner Mark mutters. It related to Penny rambling on and Mark not really listening to what she’s saying. Maybe I just talk a lot of rubbish at home, but I’m fairly convinced that my own husband probably only half hears what I say to him and that doesn’t offend me. Yet with a book, where you’re given a small window to make your characters likable, any line that potentially paints them in the wrong light, no matter how innocent, could cause offence.
It’s not the first time that someone has taken a dislike to Mark, I read a review where the blogger hated Mark and she hoped that Penny didn’t marry him. Poor old Mark, and there was me thinking I’d written him endearingly.
And it isn’t only the hero that can cause offence: in the infamous critique, my main female protagonist was hated because she’d been cross at her mother for sending Christmas presents to her ex-boyfriends’ nieces and nephews. I don’t think I’d be impressed in real life if my mum was sending presents to a nasty ex-boyfriend’s extended family, but that one line was enough to trigger an intense reaction.
As a reader you get a totally different experience than the writer, and I too get annoyed at characters and make judgements about them. I recently read This Thirty Something Life by Jon Rance and whilst I enjoyed the book I hated the main character. I wanted to throttle him after some lines. Yet I know from reading reviews that I’m fairly alone in this opinion.
Favourite characters are also not immune in the disliking stakes. I’m a huge fan of Lindsey Kelk’s I Heart Series, but in I Heart Vegas I got monumentally cross at both Angela and Alex and it took me a few chapters to warm back up to them.
So how do we solve this character dislike? I don’t think we’ll ever be able to. But listening to feedback from those that read it: test readers, editors etc is a start. I think it’s also helpful to have an awareness about the topic when editing and really looking at what our characters say and do. Looking for anything that doesn’t fit with how they have acted the rest of the time or lines that could be interpreted in a way that could distance a reader.
What’s your experience with characters causing offence? Have you ever had bad reviews based on people hating them? Have you ever read a book and taken an instant dislike to a character because of what they’ve said or done?