This is especially true of characters who aren’t very likable and, for the most part, are awful people (or would be if they existed.) I think that’s a big part of how we approach literature…. When characters are fiction, we know it, and we can be more prone to excuse things in them that we wouldn’t in a real person just because there is a greater distance between us and someone fictional than between us and other actual people.
Still, there are different traits we can give unlikable characters to help readers see a fuller picture, to help readers understand that there is more to these people than meets the eye.
- IS THERE A HISTORY THAT EXPLAINS WHY A CHARACTER IS THE WAY HE IS? When characters are tough to like or root for, understanding their past and what they’ve suffered and overcome can help us be patient and empathetic, even if we still don’t like the character.
- SHOW A FEW STRENGTHS. These don’t have to be virtues… they can be wit, a good memory, vast intelligence, athletic prowess, political skills…. We all admire strengths and talents in others. Such talents require cultivation, which implies dedication, perseverance, and hard work.
- SHOW THE CHARACTER IS HUMAN. Evil Doctor Evil has Mr. Bigglesworth. He loves Mr. Bigglesworth and is a responsible caring cat owner. 🙂 Attachment to and care for an animal or person helps make us human.
- SHOW SOME LEVEL OF SELF AWARENESS. Somehow weakness is easier to pity and be patient with when it is recognized. Arrogance is easier to suffer when we know the arrogant person understands he is arrogant and is trying to make positive changes. Those things matter. Intention matters.