Side Effects May Vary I felt like the main character Alice was treating people with absolutely no respect and it made me not like her very much. But I did understand why she was acting this way, and despite the fact I hated her behavior it made her a sympathetic and compelling character. If I can understand a character's motivation then I will easily empathize with them and like them no matter how outrageous and inappropriate their actions may be.
Another big thing for me with unlikable characters is, are they realistic? We all know those people who whine all the time, are conceited, and act like they're better than everyone else. I once heard that as readers we like characters who have traits we like about ourselves and dislike characters who have traits we don't like about ourselves. For me this is not entirely true. If I can relate to a fictional character to someone I know in real life (even better if I can relate them to myself) then for me that is a realistic and enjoyable character to read about, even if they are difficult to like. The best example for this one I can give is Quentin Coldwater in The Magicians trilogy. Quentin is annoyingly whiny and never satisfied despite getting everything he ever wanted. But that's part if his charm. Quentin has spent his whole life wanting to escape into something he thought was better. It's his main character flaw. He's the eternal pessimist and I can completely relate. Sure, it's frustrating at times to be on his side but these attitudes of being perpetually unhappy makes him seem realistic and unique. If I can relate at all to the character then I will like them.
Finally, I will like an unlikable character if they are complex. Similar to the two previous reasons, but if a character does terrible or annoying things but they aren't just a caricature and have something under the surface then I'm going to enjoy them. My example for this one is my favorite unlikable character who I love and will defend until I am out of breathe and friends, Sansa Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire. So yes, when I first met the Starks I found Sansa vapid and annoying. But then I realized something, she's a teenage girl and I'm hating her for being just that. Then I understood her motivation, she's been brought up on stories of love and gallantry and she still believes that the world is good and romantic. She's an idealist. Then when I saw her in that way I realized she has this incredible inner strength that I didn't notice at first because I was fixated on the superficial layer of her personality. Maybe it was a character arc brought about by the hardships she faced or maybe it was always there under the surface and we never noticed it because she wasn't as obviously badass as those around her. But believe me when I say Sansa is one of the toughest characters in that series. A lesser person would not have been able to handle all the hate she received at the hands of the Lannisters! Despite the fact that she is one of the most disliked people within the fandom, Sansa has quickly become my favorite character in the series and it's because of her complexities.
But before I wrap this all up I feel like I would be doing the topic a disservice if I didn't mention some villains. Villains and anti-heroes are pretty much the perfect unlikable characters. You're not supposed to like the evil characters in a book, especially if there is a likable hero in the story. But for me that is so hard sometimes. For awhile my favorite characters in a book or series were the villains because they are so compelling. You know those people. The ones you love to hate! Who are so bad it's good. For all the reasons listed above I will often love a totally unlikable villain if they are sympathetic, realistic, and complex. Like Queen Levana in The Lunar Chronicles, Circe in The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, and The Darkling in the Grisha Trilogy.
How do you feel about "unlikable" characters? Has there ever been a time you felt like you had to defend your love of a character? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!