Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On Loving Unloveable Characters...

I had an editor remark that "He's not a likeable character."

Yeah, and?

That's the point.

Fact of life: not everyone is likeable- not in your family (don't we know that all too well!), not amongst your peers, (yep, know that too), especially not at the workplace, on your block, in your church or book group, and maybe even among friends. The world is full of unlikeable people.

So why do editors insist that all main characters be likeable? Why all the nicey-nice, underdog, cheerleader, vanilla characters?

I don't do angst and I don't have nicey-nice characters because I don't believe in them. They exist, but I like to write in a darker flavor.

Norman Bates is creepy. His dark eyes and snide smile hint at the darkness lurking within. His mother, a clinging, over-protective and sexually voracious woman with a traumatic past, is an unfit parent. Norman's brother is the product of incestuous rape and yet he's the 'normal' one who only steals and kills to buy new lungs for a girl who's his brother's girlfriend.

All unlikeable, even reprehensible, characters. And yet, they are part of one of the most iconic movies and now TV series, Psycho and The Bates Motel. Sure, they have moments of humanity, compassion, and maybe even a smattering of redemption. But we still don't like them, wouldn't want to meet them even in a brightly lit room, and shiver from just a whisper of their name.

Why are we so fascinated with these characters?

Because they are dark, and foreboding, and evil; things we can only imagine while we lock our doors and run to our cars. They are exciting compared to the constant whining, drama-seeking characters who gorge on their own angst. It's why Ted Bundy, Hitler, Bernie Madoff, and other 'bad' people garner such global attention.

We need these characters in a landscape of sameness, especially in YA and NA. The narrow confines of high school should not define a character. Not dealing well with others in high school was only a small part of Norman's story, unlike the majority of books that center around that institution.

Did I change my character to fit the editor's view? Not really. It might have sold the book, but then I would have sold out my character. Did anyone really like Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre? He was arrogant, selfish, condescending, and manipulative. He embarrassed Jane. He made a fool of her, was willing to commit bigamy to get what he wanted. But because in the end he suffered tragedy and she still loved him (why??) he becomes a 'nice' guy? I don't think so. Yet this book is a classic. The same with Estelle from Great Expectations, Victor from Frankenstein, Gollum from Lord of the Rings, the Joker in the Batman comics/movies, the husband in The Good Wife, and one of my all time favorites, Hannibal Lector from The Silence of the Lambs.

I think we need to step back from overdosing on the Political Correctness that's being fed to us. The world is always going to be full of obnoxious people. I say give them their story and see the world from their point of view.

Now it's time for my character to do some dirty deeds... And they don't care if you like them.