The first blush of romance has faded. You’ve been spending hours together every day. You thought you loved each and every one of this person’s quirks. Then suddenly you realize that the person you’re with doesn’t like peanut butter or Buffy and do you even know this person at all?!
I’m talking, dear readers, about the moment when you realize you don’t like your main character.
My fiance likes to joke that someday my distinguishing characteristic as a writer will be my unlikable female main characters. Eva, my first protagonist, is a tough-as-nails thief and con artist, cast in the mold of Scarlett O’Hara (whom I love, incidentally). Drew, as he reads this first book, often feels that Eva is unlikable in the extreme. A bitch, even.
My current main character, named Mitzy Morgan, is an alcoholic detective in an alternate universe San Francisco, where everyone has a magical talent. She’s a privileged white girl with a special talent, who has never had to work hard for anything, and she’ll do just about anything to prove she deserves what she’s got. She is a bitch.
Today I realized that I’m sick of her.
I mistook being amused by her for liking her, and the amusement has worn off. She’s bitchy, she’s moody, and sometimes she’s just a pain to deal with.
In complaining about this, I realized she also lacks any of the depth most of my characters have. She never surprises me by taking the plot where she wants it to go. She does exactly what I tell her to, but she complains about it along the way. She’s a puppet, essentially, and I’m tired of making her dance.
What to do? I realize this is a pretty common NaNoWriMo problem. I, however, adopted an unconventional method of solution.
I whipped out the trusty tarot deck.
Some of you may wonder why tarot is a category on this blog, and someday I’ll write in detail about why the tarot is a helpful tool for writers. Today I’ll just tell you that the imagery and characters of the tarot are highly archetypal, and sometimes thinking with a different part of your brain can shake up your writing process.
After all, I came up with this plot using a simple tarot game.
Anyway, I shuffled the deck and said, “Oh mighty tarot deck, tell me why I should like this character!”
Okay, that’s not actually what I said, but I did consider that question when looking at the imagery. I came up with the following list of personality traits:
- loving spirit
- “dances her dreams and desires out loud” — this is a quote from the booklet that came with the deck. My translation: She’s an open book. You get what you see.
- Finds opportunity everywhere
- Capable of clear-headed observation
- Naive, in that privileged white girl sort of way
- Lives life — really lives it
There are some redeeming characteristics in this list, aren’t there? Obviously, this isn’t the full Mitzy, but these are some things that I already knew about her, and failed to develop in the book. I’m doing her an injustice by playing up her amusing–and unlikable–characteristics.
Yes, the third act of the novel will be her redemption, but something has to carry the reader into that third act. I’ve now plotted some additional scenes that will show these traits and give her the depth that she needs.
The point is, I’m not dumping her. I realize that our honeymoon period is over, and it’s time to start appreciating those quirks that have started to put me off.
So, readers, I ask you: Have you ever realized you disliked your main character? How did you solve that problem? What are some unlikable characters that you actually love? (Scarlett O’Hara and Carrie Bradshaw both spring to mind for me.)