And gifs! Well, still ones.
I’ve seen a lot of posts buzzing around the internet about why people dislike characters and what acceptable reasons to dislike a character there are. Since I’m a sucker for characterization, I’d thought I’d share what I think are acceptable and..well, not so acceptable reasons to dislike or hate a protagonist.
First of all, here’s things that are NOT good reasons to dislike a character:
Unless the character in question is a raging stereotype, then this is usually a personal issue. If you don’t like a certain race, I can’t really change your mind, but hating a character solely for being the token minority isn’t going to hold up much water.
Let’s face it. Female characters get much more of a bad rap than their male counterparts. Why is this? Because to a lot of people, feminine traits equals weakness. It seems that female characters can only come in two modes lest they be labelled “Mary Sue”: plain, introverted pretty girl or tomboy pretty girl. It’s really limiting the scope of female characters, which isn’t fair. There are exceptions, of course, but the exceptions are few and far between.
Goes with race. Just because you have a personal bone to pick with the LGBT community in real life (or straight people, for that matter) does not mean that a character who identifies as LGBT or straight or any other sexuality is automatically bad. Again, it’s different if they’re a raging stereotype.
If I had a quarter for every time I saw a mature child in someone’s story, I’d have a lot of quarters. What’s wrong with kids acting like kids? Is it because the real life 12 and under crowd is annoying? Well then, write an annoying kid! I had an annoying younger sibling. I relate to annoying younger siblings.
- Gets in the way of a preferred pairing
I see this more in published fiction, but I’m sure it happens with unpublished stories too. Love triangles are a messy business, don’t you know. Hate the character for traits that should be hated, not what the writer decides to make the character do.
There are a lot of gray areas with this one. I’ll discuss when it’s ok to dislike a character for their personality in a minute, but here, let’s focus on when it’s not ok. It goes with the others. If it’s a personal preference (i.e. too happy, too moody, too angry, etc.) then the character isn’t necessarily bad. That personality is probably playing a role to the story and it just happens to be one you wouldn’t write a character with. They could act as a foil to the protagonist or they could be balancing out their wackier cast members.
- Any other thing that is a personal preference
Let me make a slight correction here. When I say “dislike” a character, what I actually mean is “dislike them to the point where you want to tell the author ‘this character is bad and you should feel bad’ “. If you personally dislike something, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t call someone out on it unless…
NOTE: The following are real examples from actual stories I’ve read. The unpublished ones have the author’s name and title omitted to protect their privacy.
- The character is a raging stereotype
I said this a little bit above, but it should be said again. The exception for disliking a character because of race/gender/sexuality/etc. is when they are a misrepresentation of the group they are trying to portray. Using my own project (Grave) as an example, there is a character named Jullian who is gay. I am concerned that because he is feminine, he will be seen as a stereotype of gay men. Now, there is another gay character to balance him out and his sexuality isn’t the focus of his character, but it’s a concern nonetheless. I’ll have to seen what happens when I get to that point in Grave.
- The protagonist has a morally dubious motive
Now, this can work. After all, good character does not equal good person. Where it DOESN’T work is when the character’s motivation is being portrayed as something that we should root for. One of the last stories I read was about a young magician being pressured to choose the light side or the dark side. This is a great idea that I am all for. I love stories where characters have to make hard choices. The problem is the reason she couldn’t choose. You see, she knew she wanted to go to the light, but wouldn’t because her boyfriend was dark, so she needed him to change over first. Because changing someone works so well in real life. Also, when you are a couple, you’re not allowed to have differences. Again, this could have worked if the character learned that you should choose what is best for you regardless of others or that trying to change someone you love is bad, but we are supposed to agree with her and want him to change. When a motive like that is portrayed positively, I stop relating to the character.
- The character does something that harshly disagrees with their earlier actions without reason
Another story I read recently had a girl in a wheelchair as the main character. She had a best friend that she admired and adored and said nothing bad about for the whole first third of the story. In fact, the opening line was her friend complimenting her. Then, the main character finds out that her parents are serial killers except they tell her they’re not and that she has to prove their innocence. When she returns to school, everyone is gossiping about it and asking her invasive questions. She is understandably angry. The heel face turn comes when her best friend confesses that she told people about her parents.
Now let’s pretend for a minute that for some reason, no news organizations were interested in reporting on the suspects of a case where over 100 people were murdered, so none of the kids learned it from watching TV. The best friend immediately feels bad for what she did and looks like she’s about to cry. Should the main character be mad at her? Sure. It was wrong of the friend to do that. But should she call her a very derogatory term for a woman and storm off, feeling bad for a second before concluding it was the right thing to do? No, that’s completely uncalled for for someone who’s never done her wrong before and obviously regrets her actions. If you’re going to do that, please make sure the character deserves to be called names and abandoned. Otherwise, all of the sympathy I had for your protagonist is going to that friend.
- When the character does something disproportionately bad to another character and is made to look better than them for it
This example comes from a short story in the anthology, Geektastic. The story in question is “The Truth About Dino Girl” by Barry Lyga. *Warning: spoilers ahead* The protagonist of this story is bullied because she likes dinosaurs. Now I understand bullying is not fun and it can be extremely harmful in many ways. I have no problems with that. It’s the way she gets back at the bully that bugs me. At the end, she and her Photoshop-savvy friend manipulate a picture of her to look like she’s advertising for prostitution and post it around the school. Now, first of all, I think anyone with a brain would realize it’s fake, but the bully girl is ruined by it. She loses her boyfriend and her captain spot on the soccer team, as well as whatever scholarship she might have had.
So does the main character or her friend feel bad about it? Even a little bit? Of course not! In fact, she feels like a better person for it.
“The earth shook with my footsteps. It shook. From now one, the earth would tremble in my wake. And I knew. I knew what the dinosaurs sound like. They sounded like me.”
Yeeeeaaah. This goes along with the previous example. If your character does something like this and there are no repercussions or attempts to make things right, then my sympathy is going to their bully-turned-victim.
The catch is, I see a lot of people think the other way around. They will side with the protagonist without thinking about their actions. Someone in the comments called that best friend who felt sorry for what she did a brat, and there was a person on Goodreads who thought that what Dino Girl did was cool, while other characters get hated on for being “too emotional” or “too girly”. I think this is a dangerous mindset. Be an aware reader and writer. Think about the implications of your character’s actions, as well as others’ characters’ actions.
What turns you off of a character? What reasons do you think are acceptable or unacceptable to dislike a character? Discuss.