Liking the Unlikeable Character

Coming home from date night, we talked about the movie Haywire and how it could have been better. We love action films, and Haywire had been compared to the Jason Bourne trilogy.

If you haven’t seen Haywire, and odds are you didn’t, it’s about Mallory Kane, an ex-Marine employed by a private company to free a Chinese journalist held hostage. She gets the hostage out, but then she’s sent to Dublin where she discovers that the journalist wasn’t freed, but murdered, and her Dublin partner tries to assassinate her.

Like Jason Bourne, Mallory is a talented, resourceful, martial arts trained character with a will to survive, but unlike Bourne we didn’t love her and aren’t dying for the sequel.

And this ties back to a challenge facing writers: getting a reader to care about a difficult character. While many protagonists in MG and YA are easy to like, some more complex characters aren’t. Tough, cynical, drug dependent, self-absorbed, manipulative characters need readers to give them a chance as they tell their stories.

Robin Hemley wrote,”I’ve found that I can be intrigued with characters without necessarily liking them. And it’s certainly not important for me to identify with them. But I must feel sympathy for a character.” And by sympathy, Hemley means she has to understand them as a character, especially their motivations.

Understanding creates connection with the reader/audience. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about Jason Vs. Mallory: Who Do We Connect With and Why.

2 thoughts on “Liking the Unlikeable Character”

  1. Tami Lewis Brown says:

    Thanks for a wonderful post, Catherine and congrats on the Tollbooth back up and running!
    My favorite “unlikable” character – both in print and in the movies is Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. His actions are heinous, but even at the very end, after he’s committed literally unspeakable acts, we’re rooting for him to get away with it. Highsmith did an amazing job of putting the reader inside Ripley’s uncomfortable skin- I think that’s why he works so well. Which makes me really curious about creating sympathy when we as readers don’t identify with the character. Can’t wait for your next post!

  2. Catherine says:

    Thanks, Tami. I was thinking about Ripley when I wrote my post. You’ll be interested to see the quote from James Gandolfini in today’s post as he talks about what made Tony Soprano work as a character.

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