I feel like I’ve written about this before but it’s on my mind since I saw something flash by on Twitter the other day. An agent was doing a #tenqueries series, where they pick ten queries from the slush pile and talk, in general terms about whether they would request pages or pass. This agent passed on a project because the protagonist sounded annoying and she didn’t like her.
Which, I suppose I understand. You want to have someone to root for, when you read a book. But somehow this likability thing became the nail upon which to hang a book and I don’t necessarily agree with that.
One of my favorite authors, Gillian Flynn, is queen of the unlikable protagonist. From Camille in Sharp Objects to Libby in Dark Places to Amy Dunne in Gone Girl (good GOD AMY DUNNE), Flynn writes characters that you don’t necessarily like on page one. But the story is still compelling, so you wade through the prose to find the plot and watch the story progress and the characters ARC. Either they get better or worse, but there is a change in each character. And either you like the character more……. or less when the story is over.
I recommended Flynn’s books to a lot of people. And a lot of people said, I hate these people! How can you read this? I hate them!
My answer? I don’t have to like the characters to enjoy the book. Liking the characters doesn’t even really come into play for me. Terrible people have a story. There’s a reason they are terrible. I want to know that reason. Even the villain in a book has a backstory. I’m nosy. I want to know what that story is.
Maybe I just like drama, but an unlikable character is not a show stopper. In fact, if I hate a character on page one, I’m probably more apt to read the book just to find out if they get better or worse. I love to hate a villain, strive to understand a complicated character, really try to dig deep into a complex protagonist. I don’t want to sweat while I read, but I don’t mind a little bit of work to understand a full story.
How about you?
Do you need to like the characters in a story? If you don’t like a character, what are the major reasons why– personality, life choices, language, not developed enough?