Over the weekend, I came to the sudden realization that the manuscript I was considering wasn’t working for me for a specific reason: I found some of the characters to be completely unlikable. Of course, I admit that this is a pretty subjective reason to turn down a book. I don’t think that characters should be entirely free of unlikable qualities, necessarily, but I do think that characters need to be likable in order for the book as a whole to work.
I wouldn’t say this is an easy fix, though. There has to be something about that character that allows the reader to be connected emotionally to their story. There also has to be a certain complexity to a character’s personality, one that allows for gradually revealing different traits and characteristics over the course of the story. There has to be a certain vulnerability to the character. I think the perfect character is one who is far from perfect, but for whatever reason we as readers can’t help but be drawn to them.
So for a writer, if a person comes back to you, having read your manuscript, with the critique that your characters are unlikable, how do you fix something like this? Admittedly, you could just take your manuscript to someone else, who hopefully does like you characters, but if the goal is to improve the story, how do you tackle this? Writing strong characters can be tricky, and I’m curious to know what techniques, if any, do you as writers utilize to clear a hurdle like this.