A recent four star review of Shattered Reflections on Amazon said that although a lot of the characters were not nice this made it a better story. This review pleased me as it suggested that he had understood what I was trying to do. Making characters likeable is not something I have ever been concerned about.
It is certainly true that even the more appealing characters in Shattered Reflections have a nastier side. Jamie Hartnell, one of the main characters, begins the novel as a studious, sensible character. If he had remained that way throughout the novel, he would have been pretty one dimensional and no one would have cared about him. However, when it is discovered at school that he is gay and his so-called friend George starts to make his life a misery, I felt it was realistic to show the changes in his personality as he became more defensive and so very angry. His relationship with his mother also deteriorates, something he feels particularly angry about. He could not remain the same, no one could go through that and still be the same person.
At the same time, I do not believe that having characters that are irredeemably evil is any better or any less one dimensional. George could be seen as the villain of the piece but he was struggling with issues of his own relating to his sexuality and I wanted to make it apparent that this was the reason for his violence. Even the most terrible of characters – Patrick Bateman springs to mind – have to have something to keep the reader interested. For example, while obviously Bateman is not likeable, it is possible to feel concern for him and understand that he is trapped in a system that alienates people so much that they consider murder the only way they can be noticed.
Finally, I wanted to write a novel that was quite psychological and while it is written in third person, it is always from the various characters’ points of view. I think that if you could genuinely see inside other people’s heads you would find that most people have a less than likeable side. Most of us think things that we would never share and part of being a nice person is not sharing them with others. However, when you are writing from a character’s point of view, you cannot afford to leave such thoughts out. It would be dishonest and you would be left with those nice, one-dimensional characters that make for such bad fiction.