I'm the kind of reader who truly enjoys well-crafted morally grey characters or antiheroes: simply put, their nuances and choices fascin...

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I'm the kind of reader who truly enjoys well-crafted morally grey characters or antiheroes: simply put, their nuances and choices fascinate me. But there's a fine line between creating a unlikeable character who readers love to follow, and an unlikeable character readers don't like at all. As a writer, how do you make sure you stay on the right side of the line?

When you expect a reader to bond with a character who they'd never like or tolerate in real life, a base for the reader-character bond has to be established on something other than kindness and morality. Personally, I will trail an unlikeable main character to the ends of the earth if I understand them, am amused by them, or think they're clever. Even better if it's all three!




1) Make Them Understandable

It would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to find a person in this world who is purely good or evil: we all make decisions and moral choices throughout our lives that leave us streaked or mired in grey. Even so, it's human nature to judge others and their actions, including characters. If an unlikeable character is to be understood, they must have understandable, sympathetic and intricate reasons behind their immoral choices.

For example, a character who decides to kill because they like the feeling of blood on their hands is downright repulsive, and arguably a villain. But a character who kills because he believes it's the only thing he's good at and the only action of worth he can offer to the world, is far more interesting. Additonally, his selfdoubt is a sympathetic connection point for the reader.

A character's self-justification for their actions, based on reasons that strike to the very core of their hearts, and ones which readers can relate to on some level, will hook readers in. The same applies to any character, even those deemed likeable. Readers will stay with complex and understandable characters far longer than any other, eager to learn more and more about them.

2) Make Them Funny

I'll admit it: if a character is witty, sarcastic, or tells incredible jokes, I immediately like them. There's something about humour that disarms people, and the same applies to characters. Readers love to be entertained and laugh to balance out any other dark themes or topics that might be explored in the story.

If you browse the reviews of many popular books, you'll notice a theme of reviewers raving about how much they love funny characters. Reviews might even be littered with quotes of their witty remarks. For example, in Margaret Rogerson's 'Sorcery of Thorns' Nathaniel and Silas are adored for their perfect comedic moments and comebacks, making readers attached to them despite their darker tendencies.

3) Make Them Clever

Nothing frustrates readers more (especially myself) than a character who is dumb. Readers want to be surprised and thrilled by a story's plot, or at least feel like they're not spending a hundred pages waiting for a character to pick up on the same clues they did.

Even if a character has a cruel streak, and isn't particularly funny, if they're intelligent and sharp-witted, personally, I'll be eager to follow their story. A smart character promises a smart plot and plenty of twists and reveals I didn't see coming. For example, Ramson in 'Blood Heir' by Amelie Wen Zhao may not be kind, but his intelligence and ability to navigate a difficult underworld made me drawn to his character's story.

Making a character clever, if nothing else, is giving them a trait readers can admire. If the rest of their personality and actions is despicable, letting your character be intelligent at least ensures readers will remain with them to see how their schemes unfold, or how they reveal others'.



Do you enjoy writing or reading unlikeable characters? What makes you bond with characters that are morally grey? Do you have any book recommendations with unlikable heroes?
Have a wonderful day! <3


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10 comments:

  1. Morally gray characters are certainly some of the most interesting out there. I've only written one I think, but he's fun to write.

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    1. Definitely, Rachel! They're fun to create plot twists around too. ;)

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  2. These are some very good points, Melissa! (A tendency for snappy retorts and clever banter can make us like even the villain...)

    Which is why I do think that, if someone writes a morally grey character and is fully capable of applying these three points? they have a moral responsibility to be careful about what they do with this power. It's not necessarily healthy! ;P

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    1. Thanks Jem! Oh for sure, it's definitely a means to make us sympathsise with the villain as well!

      Good point! As writers we do bear responsibility for how we portray darkness, so that's something to keep in mind.

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  3. Love these ideas! Especially the humor aspect, it really does lighten the mood of an anti-hero when they crack a few jokes here and there, even morbid jokes. XD

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    1. Thanks Emily! :D Haha yes! I have a soft spot for morbid humour, especially when it balances out the darkness in books.

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  4. These traits definitely make anti-heroes more likable. It's amazing how a laugh can bond you to a character haha.

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    1. It is! I find myself enjoying books and characters with humour far more than books without. xD

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  5. Funny and clever win me over every time.

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