Characters You Hate to Love

I am currently taking a writing class entitled, “Characters,” by Gotham Writers. Their classes are expensive so I have high hopes for this class. Anyway, one of our assignments is to write about a character that draws us in whether or not we like them.

I spend a considerable amount of time reading. Those of you who have read previous blog posts already know that I prefer reading self-published fiction for many different reasons. However, it is rare that I have read an unforgettable character from a self-published author. Why is that? I don’t know, but exploring this assignment has given me a little insight into myself. I have a very dark side. As a writer, I am inclined to embrace this, but as a mother, I am uncomfortable with it.

In the last year I have read three novels that had protagonists that should have been repulsive and dislikable, however, not only did I find myself liking the serial murderers in these books, I also hoped that they would evade capture for their crimes. The characters and books I am referring to are: The unnamed character in Normal by Graeme Cameron, Joe Goldberg in You by Caroline Kepnes, and Dexter in the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay. All three of the main characters in these books were serial killers. I should be repulsed by these men as human beings. I was not then, nor am I now. I liked them.

I suppose there are numerous theories and psychobabble why such a phenomenon happens. By phenomenon, I am specifically referring to how a law-abiding and caring citizen such as myself who is repulsed and shocked by violent, true-life crime, can find empathy and root for fictional bad guys like Joe Goldberg and Dexter Morgan. I believe it is a side effect of truly remarkable writing.

I do not think I am deranged or abnormal in any way. Rather I think the writer has found “the power of the pen” and has the enviable talent of creating unique characters that bridges the gap between reading and in-person interactions (or tv viewing as is this case). In other words, I felt these characters’ charisma by reading about them. Even though I could not see them, I still felt the allure of their personalities.

When I watched You, the movie, I saw Joe’s charisma. The same goes for Dexter Morgan. I also felt these two characters’ charisma when I read the books. (I watched the movies and then read the books. I know… it should have been the other way around). However, in the case of the book, Normal, there was no TV show but I still felt this character’s undeniable charisma. Where does such good writing come from? I don’t know, but I want it.

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