Hello, fellow writers! I'm under the weather this week, so today's post will be short, but important.
Here's the deal: if you don't like your character, your reader won't, either. Fortunately, I have three quick tips that will fix that unlikable character.
Sometimes, you write characters you just don't like. It happens to all of us; they can be bad guys, or good guys with problems, or just into things you don't appreciate.
The problem is, when you don't like your character, that dislike seeps into your writing. Your readers will pick up on it, even subconsciously, and it leaves them unable to emotionally engage with that character.
If your readers don't like your character at least a little, then they won't care what happens to that character in the story. If your readers don't care about the character, you've already lost them.
Fortunately, there's a way out. Three ways out, in fact.
Tip #1 to Fix an Unlikable Character: Good Moments
Make sure you know your character's full story.
I mean all of it. Full backstory, from family-of-origin to childhood.
Here's why: nobody is 100 percent good, bad, or ugly. All people have beautiful and terrible tales in their lives, things they regret and things they cherish. Even the most wicked, reprehensible character will have these things.
Sometimes people call this the “save the cat” moment. Even the worst characters on earth don't spend every second of every day being evil; there will be something nice they've done somewhere. If you know the good moments in your character's background, then that will affect the way your character comes across.
Heck, you could even share one or two of those good moments with your reader to deepen your character and add that lovely 3D quality.
Regardless whether you mention it or not, you need to know what those good moments are.
Tip #2 to Fix an Unlikable Character: “I'm Right”
I may have mentioned this before: all characters think they're right. To put it more simply, everybody thinks they're the good guy.
Really. Apart from cartoon people like Doofenshmirtz, no one goes around really believing they're evil. What makes wicked people dangerous is they believe they're right, or at least justified; they believe they have the right (if not the duty) to do the thing they're doing.
You need to know why your character believes they're right.
Even if they're conflicted. Even if they're unsure. There is a reason why that character has chosen the path they have; you need to know that reason, too.
If you can in some way explain (without info-dump, of course) why your character makes those choices, you will be one step closer to your readers getting where that character comes from.
Don't ever underestimate the power of that. Understanding is always the first step toward connection.
Tip #3 to Fix an Unlikable Character: Friendship Time
This one is something of a cheat, to be honest. It's a useful cheat, but a cheat, nevertheless. Having stated that caveat…
It's time to give your unlovable character a friend.
This could be a lover (though that's a little cliché), but it will be much more effective if this individual sees the good qualities in your unlikable character.
This friend gets it; he or she isn't necessarily blind to the problems, but really believes that character is worth saving/helping/working for. Through that friend's eyes, your reader may be able to see why your unlikable character could be likable after all.
Bonus points if that friend doesn't agree with the “cause,” but follows because of faith in that friend.
Do you struggle with an unlikable character? Let us know in the comments.
Time to practice. Take fifteen minutes and apply one of the three tips to see if you can make that character a little more likable.
Share your work in the the comments below, and don't forget leave some feedback for your fellow writers!
Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.
Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.
When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.
P.S. Red is still her favorite color.