One of the comments I’ve had from a few readers of Buds of Spring is that they don’t like one or two of the characters. I know I rattle on about characters a lot on this blog, but the truth is I love weaving stories out of characters so get used to it.
The thing about characters is that you don’t have to like them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always nice to like at least one, but it’s not really necessary to have a loveable protagonist. I have both read and written stories that make me want to punch a main character in the face. As you may have gathered from the above, Buds of Spring is one of the ones I’ve written. In terms of reading, the one that leaps out is the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore.
That’s not a criticism of CHERUB – far from it, it’s a very entertaining (and surprisingly informative) child-spy story, a bit like Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider on a much larger scale, and I really do recommend checking it out. It’s still one of my favourite series, years after I first read it… but I want to punch the main character in the face, repeatedly, because he’s a rather typical teenage boy – and not one of the nicer ones.
The important thing with unlikeable characters as protagonists, primary or secondary, is that they need to be believable, and preferably sympathetic. You don’t have to agree with their actions, and you don’t have to present them as in the right, but it’s important for readers to know why they think what they’re doing is perfectly reasonable. A sufficiently interesting unlikeable character can keep someone reading; a character they can’t connect with on any level is likely to make them throw the book at someone else they can’t connect with.
At least, that’s my theory. What do you think?