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Dislikable characters being popular?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Darkfantasy, Oct 21, 2019.

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  1. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    I've been noting this for a while but don't really understand it. Maybe it's just the stuff I read and watch, but it seems like the most horrible or dislikable characters seem to be everyone's favourite character.

    As a kid I liked The Worst Witch books and TV show and everyone seemed to prefer the strict, scary Miss Hardbroom over the sweet, kind Miss Cackle. Even I did as a child. In Once Upon a Time, people like villains seemed to have a bigger fan base than the hero's, especially Rumple and Regina. I'm not saying they didn't have anyone that disliked them, but more people did than didn't. Same with a lot of books and movies.

    Straight out villains being popular I can understand. They are often active and do interesting things. But you'll have a character, who isn't evil, just not all that nice and everyone likes them when they were created to be hated. Why is that do you think?
     
    Hir i-Chorvath likes this.
  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I think it is because they are relatable. We all have those demons inside ourselves who aren't always kind, or friendly, or generous. The villains are those parts of ourselves outside walking around and acting on those emotions that we keep stuffed down inside. I hate the queen in Once Upon A Time, but I also have a bit of a girl crush on her. She's so strong and powerful and while she loves her son, she has no trouble squashing anyone who gets in her way. I admire her, in a way, because she has traits I wish I could have... or at least she behaves in ways that I sometimes wish I could behave.

    I don't relate to Snow because she is too perfect. It is annoying. She doesn't feel as authentic as the Queen.
     
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  3. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    But there are heroic characters who aren't black and white. OUAT may have been a bad example because characters in that show are a bit more black and white. But there are books with a less than perfect main character who is relatable and yet the villains/nasty people still seem to be so well liked. I've noticed many villain have a sense of humour. I think people who make us laugh seem to have a big impact on likability. I was talking to my friend the other day about a character in a book who was a villain and she said: "Yes, but he's funny." It really seems to sway people.
     
    Heliotrope likes this.
  4. blondie.k

    blondie.k Minstrel

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    Well, for me it's a curiosity thing. I am always left wondering why the person is the way they are. What kind of thoughts are in their heads? What is their logic to decisions they make? Also, I agree with Heliotrope in saying that they are relatable. Their lives are not perfect "rainbows and kittens". There are tough choices that are made in what the person thinks is the best option.
     
    Heliotrope likes this.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'll set aside TV and movies, as those are very much subject to fads. I agree a current fashion is anti-hero in its many guises. That fashion is at least two or three generations old.

    In literature, though, I don't find this to be as true. Grimdark plays with this a lot, but my few forays into that genre have left me cold. If a character is not someone I can like (dislikable), then I don't like the character. I'm not really sure how one gets around that. If it's a character whom I like despite appearances, then I presume the author has intended this. A small but classic example would be how Strider is portrayed in his first couple of scenes.

    If it's a genuinely wicked character but somehow they're also funny and maybe kind or wise or whatever, then I'd say the author has not taken the character seriously enough. To fall over to comic books, the more modern version of Kingpen shows a type: the powerful man with a powerful vision who will destroy anyone who opposes that vision. The character might be smart, funny, even kind to some, but ultimately is wicked and a danger. I can admire how an author handles such a character without admiring the character himself, if that makes any sense.
     
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  6. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    Sometimes you encounter characters that you "love to hate".
     
    Darkfantasy likes this.
  7. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

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    I know the struggle with this topic. I have a four book series that has assassins as protagonists. Basically you got people that kill for an honest living and have it all ruined by a goodie goodie lawful person. For the assasins it's just a job that is going to be done by somebody, so why not get some of that money if your good at it.
     
  8. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Hmmmmm, interesting... I think some of my favourite literary characters are anti-heroes, without being GrimDark... Scarlet O'Hara? Huck Finn? Hamlet? Jay Gatsby? Quentin Coldwater? Locke Lamora? Holden Caufeld? Pretty much any main character by Kurt Vonnegut (I can't pick a favourite).... Howard Roark? Gah... apparently I like that kind of story... lol. Is Ebenezer Scrooge an anti-hero?
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
  9. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    Now I am curious why you find it interesting to follow these characters closely and why it's worthwhile to tell their story?
     
  10. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    Yes, Scarlett O'Hara is one I meant to mention. I didn't like her. So why did I continue to read her story. I felt no sympathy for her at the end when Rhett Butler left her. She deserved it. But my dislike for her didn't stop me reading or watching. I think for me, it was that she was this pampered princess who had never gone through any hardship. Then she when she had to, she coped surprisingly well and seemed to pull everyone else through it as well.
     
    Heliotrope likes this.
  11. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Are you saying ‘frankly ms scarlet, you dont give a damn?”
     
  12. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    pmmgpmmg: hahahha lol
     
  13. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    I say, please, give us more complicated women. Men get to be anything, while women have to be "likable." Give us evil women who love their children enough to destroy the world. Give us women who are cowards. Women who are psychopaths. Women who hate their kids. All of this would be so much more interesting to read about than "likable."
     
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  14. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    Not sure why but there are lots of theories. One that resonates with me is that whoever is the focus of the camera, the mere fact of getting that attention and following that journey, creates a relateability and likeability. From another point of view, the viewer is not making a moral judgement in the following.
     
  15. Nirak

    Nirak Minstrel

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    It may be for the same reason that actors say they like to play this type of character - they get to have more "fun." While there are definitely some who are just downright nasty, often the dark or "evil" characters get to mug it up and chew up the page/screen. They have interesting quirks, and instead of holding it in and doing the right thing, they express their emotions and do what they want. As mentioned before, there's probably some envy in many of us when seeing people who can let loose, and who aren't inhibited in going after their goals. A lot of these characters also have traits we admire - whether it's cutting sarcasm or high intelligence. And it happens that they might seem more interesting: you pretty much know what your good/heroic characters are going to do, but a dark character isn't restrained by the same set of unwritten rules when using their strengths or executing their plans. To the audience, that might give a guilty bit of catharsis (knowing it's fiction). Not to mention keeping the pages turning - with those kinds of characters you don't know what they're going to do next!
     
    Night Gardener likes this.
  16. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

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    I'm working on that! Spot on! I have been thoroughly writing my female characters to be very complicated. Extremely complicated. Why people are so hesitant to write complicated 'women' is becomming a glaring problem. Glad to see others are noticing it. Only because I think any flat, uncomplicated, or one-dimensional character is a disservice in fiction, regardless of gender. And, rest assured, I'm also delving into extremely complex children and the elderly, because nothing is going to get glossed over if I can help it.
     
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  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Maybe I'm putting too much on the "dislikable" part. Seems to me if a character is unlikable, then the reader doesn't like the character. It's in the word.

    OTOH, if a character has a mix of characteristics, then it does so by authorial intent. Sometimes, of course, an author thinks they're writing a complex character and a certain reader wholly dislikes the character, usually because of some flaw that reader finds unforgivable.

    I do agree that there's a fashion for "dark" characters nowadays. Not my cuppa, that.
     
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  18. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    You can dislike a character as a person, but at the same time see the character as being very well written and regularly making scenes exciting and enjoyable.
    Just because I think a character is an absolutely horrible person with no endearing traits, and I always hope he fails and will die does not preclude me from enjoying that character in the scenes he is in.

    Though admittedly that can get weird when people get too wound up in the hype. Darth Vader is a fantastic character who is just horrible and a giant bastard, but while I really enjoy him as an antagonist, I root and cheer for his opponents. And then four decades later lots of people get really excited about Rogue One because Vader has a scene where the audience clearly is support to cheer for him as he kills the good guys. Something has gone really wrong there. (That scene is one of the big factors why I hate that movie.)
     
  19. Nighty_Knight

    Nighty_Knight Scribe

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    Often it is because the character is more complex. Jamie Lannister is a great version of this because he was so easy to hate in the beginning. But over time you started seeing things from his prospective and you realize he isn’t totally a bad person, just complex and would do anything for his family, including push a child out of a window. Plus, he is a dick to people he doesn’t like, but he is actually a decent guy if he has a little respect for you.
     
  20. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Personally, I like it when characters are not completely black-and-white. Denethor is my favourite character in Lord of the Rings because of that. He is not a nice person, and goes mad towards the end, but he also never gives in to Sauron (like Saruman does) and generally tries to do the right thing for Gondor - no matter the personal cost, to him or the people around him. In reality there can be no victory without sacrifice, and oftentimes that sacrifice involves compromising one's own morals. Morally upstanding characters are all good and nice, until you realize how many people they have sacrificed to uphold their moral standards.
     
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