A professor of mine in grad school, Randall Brown, had a flash ficion prompt talking about the movie The Usual Suspects and how the villain creates an entire story using what he sees on a board in a police headquarters. It was a neat trick and a cool ending, telling us a lot about who Keyser Soze is: a prick.
|Hi, I’m the prick.|
We’re not supposed to like Keyser Soze. He is in all regards an unlikeable character. Hell, he murdered his own family just to prove a point. We might think he’s kind of cool and badass, but a likeable guy? No. If you like this guy, want to hang out with him, introduce him to your children–that’s your thing. But Keyser is meant to be a villain.
|Don’t talk to strangers…or those who might marinate you in steak sauce.|
He’s not the only one either. Hannibal Lector? He eats people. We should not like those might consume us. The Joker. Oh, we all love the Joker, but if he were real, we would move as far away from that crazy psychopath as possible. That dude Denzel Washington played in Training Day–unlikeable. But what do Hannibal Lector, Keyser Soze, the Joker, and that dude Denzel Washington played in Training Day all have in common: Oscars. People seem to love unlikable characters.
|That dude Denzel played in Training Day.|
So, if people seem to find these characters so interesting, why are so many student writers chastised when a character is “unlikeable?” First off–not all characters should be likeable. That’s just not very believable. We don’t like everyone we meet. I’m sure to some of my students, I am the most evil person to have ever lived, and we all feel that way towards someone at least once in our lives. But countless creative writing teachers warn their students about unlikeable characters.
I even talked to my thesis director about this. We were unsure on one of my characters. He’s a good guy, but I’m not sure if I want people to like him. We joked about the unwritten unlikeable rule (say that ten times fast). We both thought it was a little archaic, or a generational thing.
So, here’s my challenge to you–especially to those who have been told their entire career that all of their characters had to be likeable. I want you to intentionally write an unlikeable character. We might find them cool, sly, fun to read, but it should be that if we actually met this character, we’d find them repulsive. In fact, this should not be an easy character to write. If you are not disturbed by their actions, you’re not doing it right. When you finish this character, you should take a deep breath, look back over what you have and go “What the fuck?!” Then you have a good, unlikable villain (or maybe hero).
Originally published on FlashFiction.net