I was going to title this entry “Writing Assholes,” but decided that could be taken entirely the wrong way. And let me be clear–I’m not going to talk about writers who are jerks. I’m sure some writers are, but most of the authors I know are creative, fascinating, lovely people. What I’m going to discuss today is writing about characters who are jerks. And I don’t mean the villains or exes or minor players either. I mean when a main character–a protagonist–acts like an asshole.
I don’t mean sexy rogues. Han Solo is cocky and–at least initially–mercenary, but he’s always likable. I mean the kind of guys who treat others badly, who make us want to punch them in the face. The kind of guys our sweet boys should just kick to the curb.
I suppose that in many genres, protagonists who are less-than-endearing are not only acceptable, but even expected. But I write romance. By definition, my protagonists fall in love. Doesn’t that mean they should be lovable?
Well, sometimes. I mean, Colby in The Tin Box, he’s capital-a Adorable. And what about perky Nicky from Housekeeping or sweet Goran from Pilgrimage? It’s hard not to like them.
But my muse is a difficult bitch. People say that romance novel protagonists have to be handsome, so my muse gave me big, ugly Brute. And if protagonists are also supposed to be sweet–or at least broodingly appealing–my muse occasionally throws me an asshole.
For instance, there’s Berhanu in Guarded. Volos is loyal and good and brave, but Berhanu treats him like shit. Even after Volos nearly dies to save him, Berhanu doesn’t seem to appreciate him. I know a lot of readers were pissed off with Berhanu. Heck, so was I!
Another example of a character who’s not very sympathetic, at least at first, is William in The Tin Box. He’s infuriatingly uptight and he’s borderline rude to cute Colby. I didn’t like him much as I began to write him, even though I knew why he acted like he did, and I knew he was going to change.
I hope that by the end of the story, it’s clear why Berhanu acted like he did, and I hope he redeems himself. I hope that readers fall in love with William as they get to know him, just as I did. I hope that folks agree with me that even heroes sometimes act like pricks, and that even dickheads can improve.
What are your thoughts on main characters who act like dicks?