|Photo courtesy of Rene Asmussen at Pexels|
Yet, in children's literature, for some reason, editors, agents, critique groups, and readers tell authors "I don't find your character likable."
Um, yeah. Gotta read the whole story. It kind of ruins the effect if it's 'insta-love' because that's not reality. Aren't there people it takes you time to warm up to? Maybe days, weeks, even years and some, never. Insta-like is for picture books and young readers who see the world as generally a happy place. If I say, "Well, halfway through the story, he saves someone and takes out the trash for his mom," people whine because they want to like the character faster. Even if the character becomes likable later in the story (as plot and details develop), it seems so many have to like a character immediately. Some you may never like- they remain evil or mean or nonredeemable (think Freddie Krueger, Mean Girls, the Predator, Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction.
The diversity of character personalities is what makes our world interesting. It's not a unicorn-stardust-candy world. There are dark spaces, and dark people. Surely if children's literature can discuss topics like bullying, racism, murder, sexual assault, and suicide, it can handle some characters we don't like. It feels hypocritical to tell an author, "make this girl nicer so I can like her" and the story is about a girl killing someone because she insulted her shoes. I will never like Hannibal, although I would be fascinated to read his life story. I read Helter Skelter in college. NOTHING could make me like Charles Manson. I understand he had a hard life, prostitute mother, etc. Still, NOTHING could make me like Charles Manson. My favorite character that I could never 'like' but yet who draws me in is Dexter. He's a serial killer. Yes, he hunts other serial killers, but he has no empathy (total sociopath), he butchers people into small pieces and dumps them in the ocean. He fakes actually liking people. And (spoiler alert!) he recognizes the same traits in his adopted children and begins grooming them. Who the heck would love a character like that?
Don't we owe it to our readers to show all the darkness? There will always be people we will never like and churning out books where everyone has a redeeming quality, or, even if they're not evil, is likable, is doing a disservice to those readers. Toddlers have pulled away from certain people who want to hug them; maybe they see a dark side to Uncle Tommy that we blind ourselves to. We have to stop putting filters on characters because the world is not a big kumbaya. If children are to see themselves in books, they need to see others in their real state- totally evil, partially evil, dark, twisted, mean, etc. Maybe by the end of the book if they still don't like the character, they will at least understand them.
You don't have to like me, but now you understand me a bit more.