This week’s video explains why readers may hate your protagonist because they feel betrayed by his unlikability.
A long time ago, when this was a baby blog, I wrote a post called “Character Likability Is Overrated.” The point of this post was that characters do not have to be perfect little goody two shoes who never say a mean word and never do a bad thing. ’Cause as it turns out, all this niceness actually makes characters unlikable. So, really, the point of the post was that likability is never overrated. This has been on my mind, because lately it’s seemed as if I’ve been running into one unlikable protagonist after another. And this is a problem.
Why? Because not only does it mean that I don’t like your character, it probably means that I hate your character. You’ve suckered me into reading your book with the promise that I’m going to like or relate to this character only to betray my trust by sticking me with someone I probably just want to smack in the face for being such a jerk.
Now, don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with a good antihero. Nothing wrong with a jerk either, so long as he’s entertaining or relatable in some deep and fundamental way. But if you’re writing a character with prominent unlikable traits, just be aware you’re going to have to work extra hard to get readers to care about him. Maybe we wouldn’t want to invite him to dinner, but, at the very least, he better be funny or super-duper good at whatever it is he’s doing.
One pitfall in particular to be aware of is that of transforming a likable character into someone unlikable—even for a short amount of time in your story. If I’m already invested in your protagonist, only to have her turn on me—as well as, presumably, every other person who likes her in the story—you can pretty much bet you’re going to make me and all your other readers mad. Never test your readers’ patience anymore than you have to. Give them a character they can love because of his flaws—not in spite of them.
Tell me your opinion: Why won’t readers hate your protagonist?