Unlikeable characters you like

Nigel the Evil CockatooI’m digging into revisions on my second novel. One of my tasks is to make a character a little less unlikable. My editor commented that flawed is fine, but that sometimes the character dips a little too far into, well, being a jerk.

I’m actually kind of relieved. Having grown attached to the guy, I’m happy to make him a little more sympathetic. There were times when even I didn’t like him.

But it’s got me to thinking about how it can sometimes be fun to like the bad guy. I recently saw Rio 2 with my niece and nephews. In 3D! It’s about a blue macaw named . . . Blue . . . and his family traveling to the Amazon to find other blue macaws.

Of course, there’s a bad guy–Nigel, the Shakespeare spouting cockatoo–who wants to kill Blue. Apparently there are hard feelings left over from the first movie. At any rate, Nigel was far and away my favorite character. Oh, I didn’t want him to WIN, but I hoped for redemption and enjoyed every moment he was on the screen.

So why did I like this unlikable character? Well, he was introduced in a sympathetic way. He was a prisoner of a side-show carny-type who made him choose fortunes for tourists. When Nigel escaped, I was glad he didn’t have to suffer like that anymore.

And then, when he was clearly not a nice guy–taking advantage of an anteater who had very little to say and trying to kill Blue–I still liked him because he was funny. His Shakespeare was wonderful, the pink frog smitten with him tickled me, and his rendition of “I Will Survive” was just plain fabulous.

Upshot? I liked him even though he was awful. There are some good lessons there for any writer. Maybe I need to hang out with the kids more often.

3 thoughts on “Unlikeable characters you like

  1. Recently, my wife asked me not to watch American Idol or The Voice with her.

    She said something about my comments being reminiscent of Simon Cowell without the charm or kindness.

    Sometimes WE are those unlikable characters, and maybe we like these fictional counterparts of an aspect of ourselves as a sign that there’s hope, even in our worst moments.

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