In consuming movies, television and novels, I’ve often found myself liking an unlikable character. They’re interesting, they’re intriguing, they’re insightful. There is something within them that just begs to be understood or that creates delight in being reviled, something that’s distasteful but curious.
I was going to list some ‘unlikables’ we can’t help but like, or at least be interested in, but I won’t. Why? Because most likely that character I love to hate (or hate to love) is different from yours.
And why is that? Why can one character make me shiver, gawk and almost want to turn off the TV screen or close the book, yet have little to no effect on you? Simple answer. We’re all individual and, most likely, something in that character either particularly disturbs us because of an experience we’ve had with some real person in our lives or, even more telling, because of experiences we’ve had with (or are scared to have with) ourselves.
Readers of my book, Skinny Me, often seem to have a love-hate relationship with the main character, Jennifer. I watched confused as those first reviews came in. Some people LOVED her, some people HATED her. At first I felt insecure: Did I make her too unlikable? I didn’t find her that unlikable. Well, she had to be … she didn’t like herself. What does that say about her? About me? And the other question: Why should not liking a character have anything to do with not liking a book? And then I realized, wait a minute! It’s great that people are having such a strong reaction. I’d rather people hate a character (even if it means hating the book) than have them put it down unaffected. And it was the reviewers who experienced both emotions, oscillating between feelings of love and hate, that really made me secure in this fact.
Jumping forward a few months, I found myself reading a book where I really didn’t like the character, and in a way I wasn’t used to. She wasn’t a villain I enjoyed not liking. I just didn’t like her. I didn’t like her in a way that at times almost made me want to stop reading. This was a new experience for me. I wasn’t bored with the story. I didn’t think the writing was bad. In fact, I thought the writing was pretty great. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to keep spending time with this woman.
On further contemplation, I wondered if what I was experiencing was akin to what my readers had experienced with Jennifer. So I decided to dig deeper and I think I came up with my answer. I haven’t had children yet, but I really hope to, and here is this woman who has a child and is absolutely putting herself and her own problems/wants/needs above said child. First reason to not like her: She does not appreciate the gift she has. Second reason: What if I ever do the same type of thing? Life can get hard. Life can get stressful. What if I become a person who doesn’t handle it and risk the safety of the one person I’m supposed to protect above all else?
It’s an uncomfortable thought. It’s a thought I think my subconscious didn’t like sitting with, and so maybe it’s part of why I was having trouble ‘sitting’ with this book. But I didn’t give up. I didn’t let my ‘dislike’ lead me to put the book down. I’m so glad I didn’t! All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner was a book to make me think, a book to make me contemplate life, and a book that reminded me that sometimes it’s the things (or people) we don’t like that can teach us the most.
I’d love for other readers to experience these potentially unlikable characters. To get your chance, Enter my Giveaway! The winner will receive the hardcover of Jennifer Weiner’s All Fall Down AND paperback of all three of my A New Start books. Two runners up will also receive paperbacks of my series, PLUS every entrant will receive an ebook copy of Skinny Me for FREE and be able to decide for him or herself whether Jennifer is a character they love to hate, would hate to love … or somewhere in between?
Have any fictional characters you love to hate or hate to love? Share in the comments below!