One of the criticisms I'm hearing is that "I don't like the character enough."
Um, do you like every person you meet? I don't. And I know some people don't like me at first (and sometimes not even later, but that's a drama for another day.) While teen books are reflecting more of reality- sexual assault and gender identification, bullying, school shootings, etc., it seems every book's main character is a nice person. It's not like that in reality. Everyone knows this yet few write it.
My character has to have room to grow.
I'm not buying into the 'your character has to be likable' in order for the story to be good. Maybe I'm just a little tired of the kumbaya, sugary portrayals: a nice girl who's the cheerleader with the best boyfriend and perfect life who suddenly finds her life in a mess. Or the jock with a promising college football scholarship who's a nice guy except for that drunk driving episode. Or any other story where everyone starts out nice.
People are complicated. Characters should mirror that. There are times when you meet a person, and they come off as a jerk, or nasty, or just annoying. Maybe they have a problem or situation you don't know about. Until you learn more about them, you won't understand why they may come off as unlikable. Possibly they are simply unlikable; that doesn't make their story less compelling. If we're looking at a short time period, we could all point the finger and accuse each other of not being nice- at that time, or from that time going forward, or backward. Everyone has those moments of 'un-niceness' and I dare anyone to argue to the contrary.
|Photo by Kat Jayne, courtesy of Pexels|
Maybe a character or a specific person is just a jerk. There are real people like that. Look around. Maybe you're related to a person that isn't so nice. Possibly you work or live near someone you don't like, but you have to interact with them. That's real life. Middle grade and young adult books should have characters like this; if kids understand complex issues, they will understand, and accept, that not all people are sweet, nice, helpful, etc. And that doesn't make the character a villain.
Before you write off my character Jake, get to know him. By the end of the book, you'll understand why he's the way he is and that to tell his story, I couldn't make him sweet.
You might even like him.