I’m not likeable, but I’d still like to be lovable.
“She’s a bit selfish.”
“I don’t really like her.”
Two comments I’ve received from the latest draft of my memoir about my protagonist—me!
Interesting. I’ve tried to write the objective truth and it seems I’ve ended up with something like The Rosie Project meets The Glass Castle. A heady analytical look at a messy, dysfunctional slice of life. Or perhaps I’ve succeeded in an accurate portrayal, because I did spend a good deal of my youth searching for love while also feeling unlikeable.
But unlikeable characters often result in readers not finishing the book. So … another draft! And, while it may be difficult at times for me to like the person I was, I know she had redeeming qualities. She also had several friends who managed to put up with her—so she must have been lovable on some level. Although now I’m wondering if those friends really knew her inner workings.
I remember a conversation in the 90s when a friend told me she thought I was the most “normal” of all our friends. That comment nearly sent me into a breakdown, as it made me realize how successful I’d been at showing on the outside what I thought the world wanted to see. And that realization felt like some sort of comic tragedy because—on the inside—I didn’t feel anywhere near normal.
I recently attended a creative writing workshop facilitated by the Whistler Writers Festival called A Crash Course in Empathy by Katherine Fawcett. (Side note: I’m excited to read The Swan Suit, Katherine’s book of short fictional stories, which I won as a door prize!)
The goal for me in attending the workshop was to understand how to make my character more likeable by helping the reader connect with her. To feel empathy for her. Katherine offered several tips for writers, only some of which are—
Having your character:
- be particularly good at something
- attempt to overcome fear or make a change
- care for others
- display unique quirks, habits, or beliefs
- yearn for something universally understood
My next draft will aim to uncover some of those redeeming—and connecting—qualities of my character for the reader. And also for myself! I may not be a likeable character, but I would sure still like to be a lovable human.