Thursday, September 10, 2015

Unlikeable Characters?

As I wrote Fight Or Flight, I struggled with the main character and how to make him likeable.  It's no secret that I prefer to write characters who are real instead of these grandiose versions of saints that have nothing in common with the audience.  I think we all have some noble qualities and some dark flaws, and people can relate better to someone who better resembles themselves.

Unfortunately, as I try this, I'm finding that it can be real hard to present such realism without making the audience dislike the character portraying it just a touch.  In Homecoming, the human society of the future came to revere a man named David Morton.  Morton was the person who led them from a ravaged Earth to a new world.  Since I enjoyed the backstory as much as the main one, I decided that a future novel - in this case, Fight Or Flight - would depict the events that made Morton such a legend.

In getting from A to B(or B to A since this is a prequel), I've had to show Morton do some things that weren't always pretty or even noble.  I think that's understandable since the job of evacuating a small slice of humanity in the middle of an apocalyptic war would require the one in charge to make hard decisions.  Further, I think that although many of us like to think of ourselves as noble while we sit in a living room easy chair sipping bourbon, things get much different when we're actually in the situation.

The problem is that stooping to what he needs to do can create strong dislike in the moment.  When deciding who gets to leave Earth and who has to stay, he uses deceit to trick others into creating a diversion so the fleet can escape, and that diversion will result in a lot of death.  During part of the flight from Earth, Morton conducts a summary execution in order to prevent a massive crime wave aboard his ship.  While necessary in the desperate moments an apocalypse would create, they don't always sit well with readers who may want their heroes a little more noble.

So what do you think?  Do you prefer heroes who are real, or do you want exaggerated versions that we all want to believe are true but usually aren't?  How would you react to someone doing whatever he or she has to in order to save others?  I don't think that anyone is wholly good or wholly bad - we all tend to lean one way or the other, but we're capable of both.  Can we get past that in our reading, or is it too much and will make us root against the hero?

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