It was a typical Friday night. I had just gotten back from visiting an Amazon bookstore and a local hot dog place (both of which were extremely overrated and overhyped) with my husband and best friend. Instead of watching another Bravo show, we decided to watch Set It Up. Well, it turns out an upsell disguised as a bookstore and an indoor beer garden (yes, I know it isn’t a thing…tell that to the owners) weren’t the only disappointments that night.
I wanted to like it. I really did. Hollywood doesn’t do romantic comedies anymore (seriously, think about it: when was the last time you saw one?). To quote Tyra Banks, I was rooting for it.
But it fell on its face.
They are several reasons, but there was one major glaring problem: the male leads was detestable. Unless you have the swag of Matthew McConaughey, you really can’t be a jerk in a romantic comedy and pull it off.
Look, I am all for unlikeable characters. One of the most frequent notes I get on my own manuscripts is that my protagonist is unlikeable. I am all for it. But it has to be done well.
How do you do it well? Well, unless if the character is a villain, it usually helps if the character has an arc where he or she improves. The problem with the male lead is that he starts the movie as a verbally abusive man-child and ends the movie still as a mean Peter Pan.
When a guy is that unlikeable, you wonder what is wrong with the heroine if she wants to date him. Also, a static character makes you wonder what the heck was the point of the story if the character remains the same.
Also, he had no backstory. Why is he such a terrible human? What happened in his childhood that made him this way? Even if you are creating an antagonist or a villain, you still need to create an origin story. After all, we know that Magneto is a survivor of atrocities and Doctor Doom is a failed perfectionist.
Let the reader know why your antagonist is that way. Most people aren’t born terrible.
So if you are going to write an unlikeable character, make sure he or she has an arc of redemption or at least an amazing backstory.
Who are your favorite unlikeable characters? Let me know in the comments below.