I’m not likeable, but I’d still like to be lovable.

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.

10 comments

  1. An unlikeable character … can we still be made to care for them? I wrestle with that in my fiction all the time. And of course the character needs to find that sympathy in the first few pages. Is their ‘wound’ something we can relate to? Do they reveal potential for having a radical change of heart? I think that’s why we see dubious protagonists stopping to scratch a dog or help an old lady across the street … it shows there’s hope for them, however dark they might seem. Good luck with that, Sheila … but if you succeed, it will be a sophisticated piece of writing. ~ PJ

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  2. Dear Sheila, Can’t help but wonder who made those comments on your latest draft. It makes me feel sad to read how unhappy you were during your growing up years and to know I played a part in the circumstances. I hope I am never moved to write my memoirs, or at least allow my journals to be read in my lifetime. One can become very apt at covering up how we are really feeling. Think of the word FINE, a very often used word, said with a smile on ones face, when someone asks how we are. In Alanon I learned another meaning of the word. F- frightened or frustrated , I – insecure or isolated, N- neurotic, and E-emotional. Guess life is just one big struggle but also a huge gift. Stay strong dear daughter, you are loved. Mum ________________________________

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    1. Dear Mum, it makes me sad to make you sad! When actually I think we’ve both done a marvellous job of moving from FINE to fine. I am most definitely enjoying the gift of my life. Thank you and love you, Mama.

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  3. You are likeable and loveable, my friend! Like me, it seems, you’ve been on a lifelong quest to feel loved and share your love.

    Creating a Calmer, Happier, More Connected You,

    Haida Bolton NatureWithHaida.ca 604-989-3600

    >

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  4. Dear Sheila, I totally enjoy reading your views on life. You’re very brave to put it all out there, therefore, willing to hear others opinion of you.

    You are a most loving and lovable person, always willing to expand your circle of friends.

    I have loved our deep convos where I shared some of my most tragic life experiences and you cried as if they had happened to you. Your compassion for all living beings is admirable and I feel so fortunate to have you in my life.

    I feel that all of us have dark thought from time to time but few are willing to put them down for all to read. Thanks for being so brave,

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  5. My dear niece-cum daughter, Sheila. Sharing your innermost thoughts about your life experiences makes you only more likeable, in my opinion. It takes courage to reveal the hidden parts of yourself. I not only find you likeable, I also find you loveable, always have, always will. Love Auntie Margie

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