Guest Post + Giveaway: Sadie S. Forsythe on Unlikeable Characters

I'm really excited to have Sadie S. Forsythe on the blog today! I read her debut novel The Weeping Empress and was blindsided! It's nothing like I've ever read ... combination folk tale, epic saga and sci-fi adventure ... set in samurai Japan. And lucky us! Sadie is also offering up three e-books of The Weeping Empress.

Now read through and let's chat about unlikeable characters, those we love to hate, but would hate not have around. Welcome Sadie!

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Sadie S. Forsythe
Unlikeable Characters

I spend quite a lot of time on Goodreads.

I can't help it. It's a community of bibliophiles... just up my alley. For some time there has been a series of threads on books you would like to lem, or throw off a cliff (which I think is a pretty clever title). More recently I've come across 'characters you would like to lem,' instead of simply books. I paid absolutely no attention at first, but I've just read two books that brought the thread back to mind.

The books in question both had main characters that I detested. I mean really riled me up with a sense of indignant distaste. The difference between them is that I didn't actually dislike one of the books, while I did the other. The obvious question is what's the distinction? Why did an unlikeable protagonist spell doom for one book and not the other?


The main character gets more screen time, so to speak, than any other. So disliking them doesn't bode well for a book in general, but it apparently also doesn't immediately it sailing over the proverbial cliff. After a little thought I came up with an answer, maybe not the answer, but one that works for me.

I'm not naming the books because I don't think it would be fair to bias anyone's opinion of them. After all, another reader might feel completely different about them. But in the first book, the one I didn't dislike, what I found unappealing about the main character (and for the record I didn't much care for the other characters either) was the way she responded to the challenge presented to her. She was stressed out and tended to take it out on others. She whinged and repeatedly locked herself in the bathroom to get away, leaving others to deal with the problem. These others were baffled at her behaviour, chastised her about it, and got on with life.

The second book had a very Bella-like YA lead that refused any sort of instruction, even lifesaving ones. She was arrogant, self-centred and probably narcissistic. The other people in the book (who I mostly adored) treated her and her behaviour as if it was acceptable, did their best to coddle and protect her. Which means, unlike in the first instance, she never had to face or acknowledge her own shortcomings. This is the difference.

In real life no one is saintly enough to like everyone. Sometimes two people just don't 'click.' Literary characters are much the same way and unlikeable characters often introduce an element of realism to a book, especially if that person isn't scripted as the cliché baddie. Their words and actions, however, have to carry some sort of resolution. If the message they convey is one the reader can't relate to (for example, it's ok to selfishly endanger everyone around you as long you are just stubborn enough about it), then it is increasingly likely that the whole book is going to be coloured by an ugly shadow. In such circumstances, though the character is the initial catalyst, the easily identifiable point of repugnance; they aren't really the underlying issue. The inherent theme of the book is.

To return to the above example, the theme of the first book was one of redemption. The character was eventually forced to learn from her mistakes and change before the book could reach its logical conclusion. This is something I, as a reader, can appreciate. I think that the theme of the second was supposed to be that love conquers all, but it really felt more like 'girls who act like stubborn princesses are treated like royalty and get their own way eventually.' This doesn't work for me and I think probably wouldn't for most people.

I never lemmed the books though and here's why: there is value in every book. I may not have enjoyed this second book, but it prompted deeper thought and I learned something from it. So when you find yourself in a similar situation and are considering abandoning a character halfway through, I recommend sticking with it until the end. By considering what it is that is so unsettling, you might learn something about yourself...never a bad thing.

So, that's what I think. How about you? Agree? Disagree? I'd love your opinion on the matter.

About Sadie S. Forsythe Sadie is an author, perpetual grad student, wife, mother, would be aikidoka, wishful world traveler, over-aged manga addict, nail biter, occasional beader, passionate reader, internet dependent, American woman in her mid-thirties. She waited a lot of tables in college and then spent seven years investigating allegations of abuse and neglect with the Missouri and Florida Departments of Children and Families. Now she lives just outside Manchester England and pretends that she doesn’t miss Tennessee. 

Follow Sadie: Blog: http://sadieforsythe.com | Twitter: @SadieSForsythe | Goodreads | Facebook

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GIVEAWAY: 3 e-books of The Weeping Empress by Sadie S. Forsythe
Ends 10/06/2012 EST
(If you're having problems with the Rafflecopter, leave a comment about this post. Extra entries for following Guiltless Reading and/or Sadie S. Forsythe on Facebook & Twitter, tweeting or sharing the post on Facebook)

Synopsis of The Weeping Empress by Sadie S. Forsythe: Chiyo Alglaeca was happy in her life. That is, until it was all taken away. Forced into notoriety, stalked by a mysterious cult, hunted by the emperor, and facing betrayal at every turn she clings to the only safety she can find: two enigmatic men and the sharp bringer of death, Salvation. The Weeping Empress explores the devastating effects of loss, the hunt for redemption, and the price of destiny. It questions the true meaning of evil and asks what monster is not also an innocent?



27 comments

  1. Thank you so much for a fantastic book giveaway, which i would love to have the oportunity of reading. Characters make a story and so if the reader cannot relate to them, then the storyline will not have that 'spark' that makes it a great book (and something that you really want to read time and time again) rather than just a good/ fair book. If you can put your emotions, feelings and yourself into your characters then the story instantly becomes more personal, belivable and exciting. x

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    1. Thanks for joining in! (And Chiyo in the Weeping Empress is definitely someone I can relate to as a woman on so many levels!)

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    2. I completely agree. You might have meant for the author to put their feelings into their characters which is true too, but as a reader my favorite books are the ones that keep me imagining what I would have done in the same circumstances, or wishing I could have told so and so character off. Being able to imagine it in first person is a big plus for me.

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  2. Characters, when written properly, should be like any other person you might come across in life. Some may be fantastical, others may be selfish twats--the point is, there has to be some relatable, human element to them in order to make a story relatable to a reader. Naturally, sometimes readers will come across a character they don't like. It is the same with people. The key is in exactly what makes the character unlikable. Sometimes it's simply their personalities--and that's okay. No human loves every other human they meet. Why should they love every character they meet? The problem arises when the faults of the character stem from bad writing. I can read stories that feature characters I don't particularily like, even if they are the lead. So long as there is some growth along the way, I won't lem the book. However, if a character is simply the product of bad writing then I usually can't finish a book.

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    1. I honestly have never lemmed a book. I always save it for later, thinking that I may not be "ready" for it at the moment. I agree - it would be unrealistic to like everyone we met, and the same goes for the characters in a book.

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    2. I have a hard time lemming a book too. I'm an optimist, always thinking I might like the next page. I'm curious, by bad writing, do you mean a poorly developed character...not enough history, etc? I'm not disagreeing, just curious.

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  3. I can't think of too many books where I disliked the characters, although there is one I read more recently where the main character is just completely despicable, selfish and horrible. I had to carry on reading though, to see what she did next and whether she got her comeuppance.
    Thank you for this giveaway, I've wanted to read this ever since it came up on Goodreads! =)

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    1. Rinn, I remember you mentioned it when I did the Friday 56 post! Those characters - whether likeable or not - are great to keep the pages turning!

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    2. Well deserved comeuppance (I can't believe spell check doesn't flag that) can rescue almost the worst books. It's like a payoff for putting up with the horrid character.

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  4. I love flawed characters, but not characters that are so obnoxious you just want to slap them. With a flawed character, you can often like them, or empathise with them in some way - I think of Humber Humbert from Lolita as a great example of a flawed yet likeable protagonist, but he's a bit of an extreme case. But they're deliberately flawed, right, and that makes them fun, relatable, sympathetic even, or at the very least they stick in your head. Whereas with unlikeable characters, sometimes I don't know what the author was thinking. I think, Were they aware that this protagonist is an awful person? Did they write them that way deliberately at first and then just couldn't find a way to pull them out of the pit they've dug? And then when you find that other people didn't find the character annoying, you really realise that we all have our different perspectives and tolerance levels of what "annoying" or "unlikeable" even is. Which is interesting, but doesn't make me feel any better towards the particular book!

    I always feel especially confused when I read books like Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections - none of the characters were likeable, and I'm pretty sure that was deliberate, but when none of the characters are likeable, and the story's depressing, what the hell am I reading it for?!

    Great topic, and I love that instead of the usual Q&A we got an opinion piece - love it! Thanks for the giveaway :D

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    1. hahaha, Shannon! I find that even the most obnoxious characters interesting, at the least. You should see how the hubby stares at me when I start cursing while I'm reading and somethings goes wrong/is especially annoying/whatever. :P

      so... have you lemmed a book?

      i left the format entirely to Sadie, so I take not credit for it :)

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    2. Shannon, if I'm honest a too perfect character will put me off faster than an overly flawed one. I like flaws in characters. Humbert is a great example. That part of what keeps Lolita on the classics shelf, IMO. You easily forget that his actions, and therefore him, are reprehensible.

      I've not read The Corrections, but I can think of books I've read, not enjoyed, but still been glad to have read. Moby Dick was like that for me.

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  5. I hate unlike able characters. No one likes them and they ruin the whole story.

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    1. I guess they are meant to ruin stories! :)

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  6. I think that books need, to some extent, have unlikeable characters. We come across unlikeable characters in our real lives, so having them in our books may be a reflection of this. I can't think of a book where I've hated a character so much that I've had to stop reading it, though.

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    1. So true. I'd really need someone to hate :) hahaha

      I can't think of one either, William. Honestly when someone is unlikeable, they make such good reading for me!

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  7. For the most part I think unlikable characters are necessary to the story...you have to have the good people and the bad and we did not have that what good would the book actually be...not everything in life is sugar and spice...thank you

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    1. yeah, how boring would that be! good luck in the draw celticlady!

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  8. Interesting topic. I was thinking on the same lines some time back. I think even if a character is not somebody we like, they can be interesting. I remember I hated Snape in the earlier Harry Potter books. But I thought he was an interesting character. Even if there is no back story for Snape or he was not different from how he was portrayed in the earlier books, I found him interesting! Thanks for the giveaway!

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    1. Great example of a totally unlikeable character .... but I can't imagine HP without Snape!

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  9. Great topic. I like unlikeable characters, as long as they seem real to me. They have to be complex and have reasons for their actions. I can't really think of one good example off the top of my head right now, but there have been a few unlikeable characters that made a book really awesome for me.

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  10. Sometimes UN-LIKEABLE in a book makes it hard to completely get into a book or want to keep reading it, but sometimes I think their necessary to make a great book.... Thank You for the opportunity to win this giveaway :)

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  11. Me thinks that unlikeable characters make an interesting read as they usually provide opportunities for great story twists. Perfect can be boring and somewhat un-relateable because real life is full of twists and turns. I'd rather read about flawed characters from whom I can learn great insights.

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  12. Thank you everyone for joining in the fun! Congratulations to the winners and I hope you all join in the next discussion & giveaway!

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall