Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What About Unlikeable Heroes?

Heroes don't have to be paragons. They can even be villains, but can they be arrogant, egotistical and thoroughly unlikable? My belief is: “No.” I recently reviewed a books with a hero most reviewers disliked. I gave it a low rating, and I wasn't alone.

The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay sounded like a book I'd love to read. A young writer Nicholas Duhamel has written a best seller on his first foray into publishing. If you're a writer, this book beckons. It promises a glimpse of the creative process and how fame can affect a writer's ability to create. It also has a mystery about how the book he's written connects to his own life. However, Nicholas turns out to be a thoroughly unlikable character: egotistical, self-centered and demanding. I believe the author created him this way to show that at the end of the book he realizes that he has been driving his friends and lovers away and that is responsible for why he can't write.

The problem is that you have to get to the end of the book to see this, and many reviewers gave up in disgust before they got there. You have to be very committed to a book to keep reading about a jerk.

So to answer the question: Can you get away with an unlikable hero to show character development? I would suggest that you be wary. There are always people who like a book that others can't stand, but it you want a large following, it's better to have a character that is attractive in some way so that people can feel emotionally connected to the character. This isn't new advice, but it's illuminating to see it in action.