Usually I just RT or share a link to something, but this is such an issue for me, I felt it needed more than 140 characters can express. As someone who has heard about every. damn. heroine. she’s ever written that the character is “unlikable”, I urge readers and writers to read this article in its entirety and give it some thought.
Writers are often told a character isn’t likable as literary criticism, as if a character’s likability is directly proportional to the quality of a novel’s writing. This is particularly true for women in fiction.
At the risk of making myself unlikable (heh): I don’t care that you don’t like my heroine. Her likability is the furthest thing from my mind when I write.
There are of course considerations to be had. Ideally, sure, I’d like you to find the character livable–I’d like you to be okay with spending a couple of hours with her; I’d like you to understand why she is the way she is; I’d like you to find small moments when you can identify with her.
I don’t care whether or not you like her. Likability is subjective. I cannot please everyone, nor would I try to.
This is what is so rarely said about unlikable women in fiction — that they aren’t pretending, that they won’t or can’t pretend to be someone they are not. They have neither the energy for it, nor the desire.
The storyteller’s job–or at least MY job–is not to write someone you’d like to have over for dinner. I couldn’t even if I wanted to; I’m an urban fantasy writer, and interesting fiction hinges on character conflict. My job is to tell the character’s story as well and accurately as I am able to. This means they will do things you don’t like; this means they will do things I don’t like. But that’s okay. I’ve ranted on this subject before, but with women in particular there is enormous pressure to be “likable”, to be accommodating, and this is thrust upon fictional women as well. I do not play that game. I’m not trying to make anyone likable, nor am I trying to make them unlikable. I write them as who they are. I write them to be real. Period. Full stop.
Zara has, with no exaggeration, been called one of the least likable heroines in urban fantasy. Like, the whole genre.
So you don’t like one of these ladies I’ve written? You hate her?
My response will always be: GOOD. Because that lady is a fictional person. She doesn’t exist. She doesn’t breathe or eat or talk or do anything outside of my brain. If you don’t like someone who doesn’t even exist, I have made her real to you and done my job.
Perhaps, then, unlikable characters, the ones who are the most human, are also the ones who are the most alive.
So I’m going to keep writing my “unlikable” heroines who say and do bad things, and make mistakes, and sometimes kill people, and swear a lot, because their stories are interesting to me and I don’t much care if it impairs their likability.