Unlikable Characters?by Stephanie Wardrop
My main character in Snark and Circumstance, Georgia Barrett, is not everyone’s cup of tea. She’s snarky and quick to judge (though she can’t see that herself sometimes). She might even be the kind of person that you either love or you hate.
I knew I was taking a risk with a character – and a narrator – whose voice could grate on people, but I took heart when I read a letter by Jane Austen in which she described the titular character in Emma (my favorite book) as “a character no one but myself will much like.”
Chris Hammond’s 1898 illustration form the novel, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Hammond-Emma08.jpg
And as I started to send Georgia out into the world of agents and editors through query letters, many of them found her pretty nasty and unlikable (which hurt, I’ll be honest). But believe it or not, Georgia used to be a total wuss. Readers found earlier versions of her not nasty enough, in fact, too passive, so I had to find a way to make her snappy without being cruel, to make people see why she says what she says sometimes and how she often speaks before thinking. I had to make her relatable and vulnerable -- or no one would want to spend 200 pages with her.
This made me think about other characters I’ve loved who are not, by most definitions, “likable”. The first ones that came to mind were Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind and Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. Catherine is, at best, completely self-involved and as prone to violence as her lover Heathcliff, two qualities I do not generally look for in a friend. But her passion for life and Heathcliff keep us reading. And Scarlett wins us over with her indomitable spirit, even as she is cheating people, marrying her sister’s intended, and causing racial altercations with the KKK. Plus she has fabulous clothes and knows how to fashion them out of drapes.
Vivienne Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vivien_Leigh_Gone_Wind_Restaured.jpg
In terms of YA novels, as popular as she is and as much as many of us love her, Susanne Collins’ Katniss Everdeen is not exactly cute and cuddly. But while her tough shell does not contain a gooey center, we know there’s something there. She’s unfailingly moral, for one thing. Even in the Hunger Games she only kills three times: once by accident (Foxface), once out of compassion (Cato), and once out of revenge (for the murder of Rue). Plus her sacrifice of herself to save her sister’s life comes early enough for us to see what a brave, compassionate, admirable person lies beneath her (understandably) hard exterior.
And while it’s not exactly YA fiction, there is no more detestable bunch of adolescents than those that populate Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. But even the ultraviolent Alex has a vulnerability – his ability to be genuinely moved by music – that reveals his humanity. It tells us that underneath the eye makeup and the bowler hat lies a human being and thus someone with the capacity to act humanely.
From a stage production of Clockwork, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_Clockwork_Orange_-_the_treatment.jpg
So, readers, how much do you have to “like” a character to want to read about them? Do we look for different qualities in our fiction friends than we do in real life?
One superior smirk from Michael Endicott convinces sixteen-year-old Georgia Barrett that the Devil wears Polo. His family may have founded the postcard-perfect New England town they live in, but Georgia’s not impressed. Even if he is smart, good looking, and can return Georgia’s barbs as deftly as he returns serves on his family’s tennis courts. After all, if Michael actually thinks she refuses to participate in lab dissections just to mess with his grade, he’s a little too sure that he’s the center of the universe. Could there be more to Michael Endicott than smirks and sarcasm? If Georgia can cut the snark long enough, she just might find out.Mark on Goodreads
Snark and Circumstance is the first title in the Snark and Circumstance series of young adult romance novellas from Stephanie Wardrop.
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About the Author:
Stephanie Wardrop grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania where she started writing stories when she ran out of books to read. She’s always wanted to be a writer, except during the brief period of her childhood in which piracy seemed like the most enticing career option -- and if she had known then that there actually were “girl” pirates way back when, things might have turned out very differently. She currently teaches writing and literature at Western New England University and lives in a town not unlike the setting of Snark and Circumstance with her husband, two kids, and five cats. With a book out – finally – she might be hitting the high seas any day now.