My husband read my new book.
It was really hard for me to resist asking him whether or not he liked it. Because we all know there’s only one possible answer to that question, for the sake of my happiness and the continued success of our marriage, so why bother asking at all? So although of course I wanted reassurance, I managed to not quite ask.
Instead, I asked him if there were any stories or characters that he particularly liked. As with most people, I’m finding, his favourites were Tim and Claire.
Then I asked him if there were any characters he disliked, and that was much more interesting. There were two characters he did not like at all – not that he didn’t like the stories, or think that they were poorly written, it’s just that he didn’t care for the people who were starring in those tales.
I won’t tell you who he didn’t like. If you’ve read the book, you might have your own guesses.
But it was interesting to me because I like ALL my main characters. Even when they are struggling and making questionable decisions and being snappish, I understand where they are coming from. I’ve felt that way sometimes, I’ve made those same mistakes. They have my sympathy.
I was wondering after our discussion – is it even possible to write a character that you do not like? At least in some small way?
My writing friend Tudor Robins once told me that all characters act in a way that they genuinely think is for the best. They are trying to do the best thing for themselves, and maybe for others they care about. No “bad guy” can act purely out of spite or evil; it’s too cardboard, too unrelateable, not believable.
So if you understand the motivations of your antagonists, and you empathize with them in order to write from their point of view – doesn’t that mean that you like them, at least a little bit?
Did J.K. Rowling have sympathy for Voldemort? Did George Lucas understand where the Emperor was coming from? Did L. Frank Baum think of the Wicked Witch of the West with fondness?
Speaking from personal experience, I’m not sure I could write a character that I honestly did not like. The ten leads in Ten at the Wedding are like my kids – I could never choose a favourite, and I love them all.
How about you – was there anyone you especially liked, and anyone you disliked?