Nobody loves a Mary Sue.
This is something we’re taught early on as writers. Don’t make your characters perfect. Make them sympathetic, but flawed. Make them complex, make them grow, make them earn that HEA.
I’ve written some sympathetic characters. But the pattern I’ve noticed over the last few years is my characters are often unsympathetic. They don’t think they deserve a Happy Ever After, and they demonstrate why, sometimes in ways that make me cringe.
So, of course, that means yesterday, while taking a break before writing the “black moment”, I was Skyping with Liza Gaines, and the conversation turned to “these assholes” I keep writing into my books. And I’m not talking about sex scene assholes.
*ponders last sentence, decides to roll with it, shouts “YOLO!!!”, and continues on*
As an author, sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone too far. I’ve had them lie. I’ve had them fat-shame. I’ve had them kill without regret or remorse.
I mean, I wouldn’t choose to spend my time with fat-shaming, murdering assholes, so why would I write about them?
This is something I think about a lot while I’m writing, and even more while I’m editing/revising a story. Because truly? It’s about the story, and it’s about the character, and sometimes, writing a flaw does not mean the guy is walking around with an untied shoe or a crooked tooth. It’s about making my characters people from the inside out, and sometimes people are vain or smug, or so insecure when it comes to life and love that they lash out preemptively. Sometimes, the most realistic thing a character can think or say will keep me up at night for months wondering if I crossed some moral/ethical boundary by writing it.
Sometimes, I find myself tempted to give a character a Mary Sue makeover so readers will like him better. That’s dangerous thinking–that’s thinking that the readers always want to like the characters. But me personally, as a reader? I want to love a character in spite of their flaws. I want the characters to win me over–but I don’t want it to be too easy for them.
Do you have a favorite unsympathetic character? Someone you love to hate or hate to love? A character you fell in love with in spite of him or herself? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.