Unlikable main characters

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  • Unlikable main characters

    For those who followed the thread in which I was having problems with my publisher, who's trying to change too much about my book, well one of those issues was the likability of the MC (who is a woman, incidentally, hence more pressure IMO).

    And so that got me thinking, especially after watching a great podcast with two female authors discussing the importance of NOT having your MC always be likable: what are some of film and literature's favorite unlikable main characters?

    Just as I was having those thoughts the other day, I happened to see a reference to GONE WITH THE WIND somewhere, and there it was: Scarlett freaking O'Hara.

    The MC of one of the biggest literary and cinematic hits of all time. She's full of herself, she's vain, she's selfish, she can be cruel, and she covets what she cannot have. But: she's fierce, she's a survivor, these unattractive qualities also make her more human, and she matures emotionally over the course of the story. She's fully fleshed out and readers respond to that.

    The reason this struck me in particular is because she takes great pride in her small waist, I seem to recall it's actually the opening scene in the book / movie, but meanwhile, I'M being told that I can't have my MC say she has a small waist, because it might alienate readers who don't have a small waist. STOP the insanity!!

    Anyway, have at it: unlikable characters we love. Serial killers, drug dealers, narcissists, Humbert Humbert... Bonus points if they are women, so I can use that as ammo in the defense case I'm mounting

    Rantanplan
    Member
    Last edited by Rantanplan; 04-27-2022, 08:57 PM.

  • #2
    Rorschach in "Watchmen".


    Howard Ratner in "Uncut Gems".

    Mark Somers
    Member
    Last edited by Mark Somers; 04-28-2022, 12:06 AM.
    Until I can find a quote from Pope Francis regarding one licking one's butt in the Vatican I'll post this:
    Just One Scene - Contest #1

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    • #3
      Television has been in an era of anti-heroes for almost 25 years, starting with the sopranos. Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, House, The Americans…

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      • #4
        I like to think of myself as the Jack Bauer of this board.

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        • #5
          I don't know your character's backstory but I'd avoid the small waist thing because it sounds like - uh, okay, whatever. Try to amp it up.

          With that said, the editor's reason for telling you to change it is ridiculous, once again.
          Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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          • #6
            Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
            Television has been in an era of anti-heroes for almost 25 years, starting with the sopranos. Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, House, The Americans…
            Which again makes many of the suggestions I'm getting so absurd. And it seems to seriously underestimate reader intelligence, which I find odd.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by sc111 View Post
              I don't know your character's backstory but I'd avoid the small waist thing because it sounds like - uh, okay, whatever. Try to amp it up.

              With that said, the editor's reason for telling you to change it is ridiculous, once again.
              It is amped up, it's a very cool sentence with poetic rhythm to the words and a powerful visual.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Mark Somers View Post


                Howard Ratner in "Uncut Gems".
                Keep meaning to watch that one... I think I saw it pop up on one the streamers I subscribe to.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Bono View Post
                  I like to think of myself as the Jack Bauer of this board.
                  Aaaw... Jack Bauer.... What a great ride that was... But I think I forgot to watch the last season. I think it starts out in London when he busts Chloe out of somewhere... Or maybe she busts him out.

                  I would say that 24 was a great lesson in how to constantly amp up the tension.

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                  • #10
                    Your editor sounds like a frustrated writer. I've run into execs like that, and they're the worst.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by sc111 View Post
                      I don't know your character's backstory but I'd avoid the small waist thing because it sounds like - uh, okay, whatever. Try to amp it up.

                      With that said, the editor's reason for telling you to change it is ridiculous, once again.
                      Technically there was a new season of 24 w/o Jack Bauer in it -- starring a kid from Walking Dead -- 24 Legacy that I watched like pilot of and I couldn't get into it.

                      But as someone whose email used to literally be [email protected] oldispprovider.net (somehow I got that and boy did I get a lot of spam!) I love love love that show. And I just binged seasons 5 on recently... and it held up! Of course it repeats itself like crazy! 24 Live Another Day is what you are talking about... yes in London. 12 episodes instead of 24.

                      I keep waiting for a movie!

                      But I love the show so much, and I'm old, I remember I had to watch it live... then I started to DVR it and wait a little longer as I couldn't stand the commercials and my friend spoiled a death in season 4 I think... I know the character... and just this year he sent me a cameo from the actor to apologize for spoiling his death 15 years ago, which was the best! The guy was laughing as he said it.

                      Also, if you see the real Kiefer on talk shows and see what a dork he is, he really is great at playing Jack Bauer. He someone plays a kick ass bond like superhero who does some evil **** for the right reasons and for his country and he always loses personally but wins the battle for US and others...

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                        Your editor sounds like a frustrated writer. I've run into execs like that, and they're the worst.
                        She is a writer, yes... I don't know if she's frustrated or not, last book came out 10+ years ago to great reviews. So you would think she would have better instincts!

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Bono View Post

                          Technically there was a new season of 24 w/o Jack Bauer in it -- starring a kid from Walking Dead -- 24 Legacy that I watched like pilot of and I couldn't get into it.

                          But as someone whose email used to literally be [email protected] oldispprovider.net (somehow I got that and boy did I get a lot of spam!) I love love love that show. And I just binged seasons 5 on recently... and it held up! Of course it repeats itself like crazy! 24 Live Another Day is what you are talking about... yes in London. 12 episodes instead of 24.

                          I keep waiting for a movie!

                          But I love the show so much, and I'm old, I remember I had to watch it live... then I started to DVR it and wait a little longer as I couldn't stand the commercials and my friend spoiled a death in season 4 I think... I know the character... and just this year he sent me a cameo from the actor to apologize for spoiling his death 15 years ago, which was the best! The guy was laughing as he said it.

                          Also, if you see the real Kiefer on talk shows and see what a dork he is, he really is great at playing Jack Bauer. He someone plays a kick ass bond like superhero who does some evil **** for the right reasons and for his country and he always loses personally but wins the battle for US and others...
                          Yeah freaking awesome show. The lesson I learned from that as a writer, is to pile up the things that can go wrong. If your car's on fire, that's not enough: have it be on fire with a snake in the front seat, a flat tire, bad guys shooting at you, a kid bleeding out in the backseat, and a tsunami wave in the rearview mirror.

                          Seasons 1-4 were just breathtaking.

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                          • #14
                            I asked a professional I know about how to fix one of my unlikable main characters and he told when he gets the "unlikable" note it's usually because the story isn't starting fast enough and the reader has too much time to not like the main character. He told me to look for the bigger problem behind the 'unlikable' note. I don't know if this helps.

                            It could be another sort of problem lurking behind it, maybe not the waist comment itself. What happens in the scene before that? What is she doing?

                            My favorite unlikable chick character is Mavis from Young Adult. I wouldn't call her unlikable though, she's despicable. But you understand why she's that way by the end of the movie.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by lostfootage View Post
                              I asked a professional I know about how to fix one of my unlikable main characters and he told when he gets the "unlikable" note it's usually because the story isn't starting fast enough and the reader has too much time to not like the main character. He told me to look for the bigger problem behind the 'unlikable' note. I don't know if this helps.

                              It could be another sort of problem lurking behind it, maybe not the waist comment itself. What happens in the scene before that? What is she doing?

                              My favorite unlikable chick character is Mavis from Young Adult. I wouldn't call her unlikable though, she's despicable. But you understand why she's that way by the end of the movie.
                              I think in this case it's all about the reader. The reader won't like this, the reader won't understand that, the reader might think that's not very nice, the reader won't connect with the heroine if she's too cocky, the reader this, the reader that. Hence what I mentioned up-thread about underestimating reader intelligence.

                              YOUNG ADULT is a great reference, thank you!

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