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What’s the big deal with unlikeable characters?

You don’t know true torture until you’ve read a review criticizing your favorite book. It hurts!!! The pain! The pain! The pain!

Sometimes, I do what you might call “binge-read” reviews. I will just sit there and read reviews of books. And in my journey through the depths of Goodreads, I kept stumbling upon the same thing. If a reviewer doesn’t like or can’t relate to a character, the reviewer will give a lower rating to a character.

And I ask why?

Why does a character have to be likeable?

Does a character have to be likeable in order for me to enjoy a book? The simple answer is no. But lately I’ve been noticing that the relatability and likeablity of a character. I can see why. It’s just easier to become attached and invested to a story when you have an emotional connection to the main characters. It’s part of the reason why I loved Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone and countless other books so much. But a character shouldn’t have to be likeable in order for the book to be good. It should be possible to separate the writing and development of the character and personal feelings about the main character. I admit, it’s hard to do. I remember reading Emma by Jane Austen and then watching the webseries, Emma Approved. Emma is one of those snobby, nosy, thinks-she-knows-better-than-you type of character but she has good intentions and a good heart. I saw comment after comment of people saying they hated her with an undying passion, saying they were going to quit the series because she was the worst character ever.

Of course, there are different dynamics to this question even in terms of gender. For example, when author Marie Lu first received feedback from fans about her dystopian series, Legend, a lot of fans called June “cold” and I can’t help but think that I never hear male characters being called “cold”. Gillian Flynn has been criticized for writing a seriously flawed character in Amy and ironically was called sexist because of it. It’s interesting to see that characters–especially female–have to fit into a certain range of likeability in order for their stories to be valid.

Even in romance novels, I can imagine it’s a lot easier to dislike the female character because so much rests on her opinion on the male character and because so much relies on the male character doing things for the main female protagonist’s love, readers think that after all the things he did for her, obviously she has to love him back, right? And of course in romance, so much rests on the hero being swoonworthy but so much more rests on the female being relatable so then the reader can insert themselves as the character.

I feel it’s important that I read about characters I can’t relate to because then I can see a different perspective. The same with unlikeable characters.

As with all my discussions, they basically make no sense but hopefully you see what point I’m trying to make..

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10 thoughts on “What’s the big deal with unlikeable characters?

  1. Wow, I just posted a discussion sort of like this (about relatability) great really do think alike! I definitely see your point, unlikeable protagonist really aren’t all that bad, and they’re not think most important part of the story for me. Sometimes I even enjoy a little moral ambiguity or something or other that isn’t really likeable. Though then it becomes likeable for. Oops. Sorry, I make no sense. Ever.
    It’s the ANNOYING characters that get to me. When the character keeps making stupid, bratty, irrational decision, that’s what gets to me. Of course, this is because I’m a close-minded reader. I’ll admit that. But it does bother me, and I must say I do prefer characters I look up to, though they still must be human.
    This was a fun discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeahhh I get what you’re saying! It’s hard sometimes to be the reader and see what’s clearly happening but the characters act in a way that’s not really the best way to act LOL. Too bad I can’t reach into the pages and just give some of them a good punch in the face.
      I agree with you about the moral ambiguity! I feel like it makes the character more human, hence more relatable so then it makes us like them more.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Most of the time, I try my best to objectively understand a character’s POV. And if I had to quantify it, I’d probably call it something along the lines of “the stupidity index” — where said protagonist does stuff that simply doesn’t make sense to me given the context of their character design. Don’t get me wrong, there are times to be gutsy and make the difficult ambiguous decisions and what have you, but if something is so completely off that it’s mainly used to feed plot/conflict–that’s where I draw the line.

    This is an example I’ve seen time and time again: characters who are being chased by unknown/villains and there are 3-4 chapters with a bunch of nonsensical tomfoolery like playing games. LIKE, NO, THE TIMING OF PLOT SHOULDN’T STOP CAUSE YOU’RE LE TIRED. Rage.

    That is all LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! The stupidity index, that’s a good one :p I totally get what you mean though. Character inconsistency is a pet peeve of mine especially if it came out of nowhere and is there to be a copout. WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU! It just feels like they’re a totally new character. I don’t some people had that problem with Queen of Shadows.
      Hahahah! That reminds me of that one scene in Jurassic World (sorry if you haven’t seen it but it’s not really a spoiler) the main guy (Chris Pratt) suddenly kisses the other lady WHEN THEY’RE BEING CHASED BY DINOSAURS. I’m just like, um, hello???? There are dinosaurs running around eating people?? Dinosaurs?? I repeat dinosaurs?? This is not the time to be makin out!!! Ain’t nobody got time for that.

      Like

  3. The only instance where I’ve downrated a book due to an unlikeable character is with Hello, I Love You. Oh and maybe Great Expectations. But I just hated Great Expectations in general. (I know you actually enjoy Dickens okay, haha. Maybe I’ll come to appreciate him more later in life. Who knows!) I think it’s not that bad if the unlikeable character is part of the supporting cast. Now if he/she is the main character and the narrative is through his/her point of view… It can get annoying that it ruins the reading experience, you know? But that’s not always the case. At least for me. So I definitely see your point. And Emma is a classic example! Even though I never finished the book (I wasn’t in the mood when I picked it up last year, honestly) I didn’t find the plot or overall enjoyment of the book be affected by Emma’s character. In fact, because she’s such a flawed heroine makes me feel like she’s more human than Austen’s other boring characters (though I liked Fanny Price and Catherine Morland, they were so bland; not to mention, most of Austen’s plots are similar to begin with P&P and S&S are like the same almost. I still love Austen though!). And YES! I love reading about different type of characters to see other people’s perspectives. That’s the beauty of reading, yeah? Getting to experience and discovering “what if”s without them truly happening to us. Wonderful discussion post, Carolyn! (Ughhhh, I have no idea what discussion I should do. No spark of creativity at all in me atm.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually liked Emma more than Pride and Prejudice O: although I’m not sure if I like Darcy or Knightley more. I see what you’re saying..it can be hard to care about a story when I don’t care about reading the main character’s story and there will be always be qualities in a character that I just hate.
      Thanks Summer! And don’t worry, you’re plenty creative, just gotta wait for the right time. At least, that’s what happens to me.
      Btw, I forgot to tell you, but I got my first solicited ARC from an author O::: and I’m sure it’s thanks to you because I used the same email format as the email template that you put on your getting ARCs post, so thanks Summer 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the reassurance, Carolyn! Yeah, I’m not going to push myself. I want to attempt to release quality discussions… it’s just that all the discussions seem to be already done in the blogosphere… sigh. And YAYAYYAYAYAYYAY! I’m so excited. What book was it? TELL ME IT’S PASSENGER. But whatever the title, I hope you enjoy!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m sure there are no more “original” discussions anymore, but a different perspective would be cool to hear about 🙂
        Ahhh, no it wasn’t 😦 but it’s called A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly. It’s a YA Fantasy 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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