Are you likeable?


imageBy C. Margery Kempe

I rolled my eyes and muttered dark words at this BBC story where Fay Weldon claimed that women read for “comfort”. Even forgetting the gender essentialism — and how idiotic it is to make any claim for half the world’s population other than they have vaginas — the idea that we need to be comforted like little children is pretty infantilising.

I’m sure both men and women have “comfort food” reads, books that always please. When you’ve given up on a couple of books in a row or found them disappointing, it’s good to go to a no-fail author you know will please. But the idea that’s all that women do irks me beyond belief. I like books that challenge, surprise, scare and thrill me. I generally read for anything but comfort, and I suspect there are many like me.

The other irksome comment was that she thought characters should be likeable too. What does it mean to be “likeable”? It sounds like the usual crap we’re given as women to make nice and not raise our voices. And smile because “it can’t be that bad” — you’ve got that, too? Every time a man tells me that (and it has always been a man) I consider telling him that my dog just died or I have cancer just to shut that smug face up.

Oh, look at me not being likeable! Many of my characters are not either. They tend to be likeable in romance, that’s part of the genre: good people coming to good ends after a lot of struggle. But I write noirish crime and horror, too.

The people are not always likeable.

Do you need characters to be likeable?

(Cover from my latest publication The Mangrove Legacy, which has mostly very sweet and likeable characters).

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24 Comments

  • Stephen Dempster
    July 26, 2013 at 4:38 am

    “Ah, Miss Weldon…. The female reading public is not even remotely as one-dimensional as you purport it to be. The reasons for reading (by any gender and for any genre) are as many and varied as the readers themselves. Please do not judge us all by your own base measure. Rather explore the true breadth and depth of the literary world and let it evoke the myriad of emotional and psychological responses that you have obviously yet to experience through a well crafted book.”

    OK – rant over 🙂

  • LizEverly
    July 26, 2013 at 4:43 am

    I don’t think I need characters to be likable. But I need them to be relate-able. I love the Agatha Raisin series by MC Beaton and that character starts off unlikable. But the writing and the story pull you along and you think, “Eh, she not so bad.” But she IS very curmudgeonly. To me, that makes her all the more interesting.

    • cmkempe
      July 26, 2013 at 4:54 am

      I’m not sure what ‘relatable’ means. I don’t especially want characters who are ‘like me’ which often seems to be the way people define it. I spend way too much time with me already! I want other lives.

      🙂

      • LizEverly
        July 26, 2013 at 6:40 am

        Yeah, me too! I guess what I mean is there has to be a quality I find intriguing. And usually, for me, it’s an imperfection or a flaw, which I can definitely relate to. Unfortunately–LOL.

  • cmkempe
    July 26, 2013 at 7:24 am

    In short, characters should be riveting — likeable is just one way of achieving that.

  • madelineiva
    July 26, 2013 at 8:34 am

    I like characters on the edge of unlikeable. House on the TV show House, for example. Or the hero in LORD OF SCOUNDRELS. Or the heroine in AIN’T SHE SWEET by Sarah Elizabeth Philips. They present a challenge. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I want to know what’s going on–why are they like that? Is there anything more to them?

    I too adore Agatha Raisin. I guess the thing about these characters is that they are all profoundly flawed. But we’ve always liked that in characters. We can even like profoundly selfish characters–if they’re done in the right way. (Which usually means that they have to suffer.)

    I do read for comfort and there’s something about some books or TV shows or movies that have–as Quentin Terrentino put it–have a hang out quality. You just want to hang out with those characters in their world.

    As a writer, I would like to see if I can create that kind of world and those characters. Some of them are on the edge of unlikeable –sure.

    But one of the reasons why I feel writing romances matters is that when I was growing up, there was a lot of uncomfortable horrible days spent hanging out in emergency rooms, and romance novels did comfort me at that time, they went a long way to alleviate stress and help me keep marching. I think of them as a tool in that way–an important tool.

    • cmkempe
      July 26, 2013 at 9:35 am

      And that’s great. I think one thing books can do is offer comfort — but it’s just one thing. And not exclusive to women. This “women read for comfort” has a lot to do with why the books women write get dismissed as “fluff” too.

      I think Jane Eyre is a difficult character; she’s very exacting and follows her moral compass regardless of what other people tell her is “right” — it can make her unlikeable, but I love her!

  • LizEverly
    July 26, 2013 at 9:59 am

    I think men read just as much for comfort as women do. I read for comfort every now and then. I really hate that blanket kind of statement about what women like and don’t like. And I hate that dismissive fluff thing that goes on, too.

    • cmkempe
      July 26, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      I like that no one has ‘liked’ this post…

      O.o

      • LizEverly
        July 26, 2013 at 4:49 pm

        Oooo. Sorry, I just liked it before I read this. 😉

  • Elizabeth Shore
    July 26, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    Ha! I “liked” it, too.

    You pose an interesting question. Honestly, I’ve never thought of myself as reading for comfort. I read because I love it. Why? Because I love a damn good story, that’s why. There’s nothing better to me than when someone says, “you’re never gonna believe what just happened to me!” I’m already sucked in, wanting to know just what did happen, what are they going to tell me, what happened, what did they do, how did they feel, what what what?!?

    I love compelling characters, those who make me want to hear their stories and care about what happened. If I love them I’ll cheer for their victories, if I hate them I’ll hope for their demise. But love or hate, I need to care in order to read on. Not caring turns the book into a certain wall banger.

    Am I comforted by this? Hmm. Maybe. Yes. Or no. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

    • cmkempe
      July 27, 2013 at 5:49 am

      There’s nothing worse than boring in a character!

  • Giselle Renarde (@GiselleRenarde)
    July 27, 2013 at 1:27 am

    So many nails… so many heads!

    Doc Martin: nasty, curmudgeonly character, but who doesn’t love him?

    Thanks for being fierce.

    • LizEverly
      July 27, 2013 at 5:17 am

      Ooooo. I love Doc Martin!

      • madelineiva
        July 27, 2013 at 8:40 am

        Doc Martin sucked me in completely. I could make love to that Cornwall setting too btw.

    • madelineiva
      July 27, 2013 at 8:40 am

      Thanks for commenting Giselle! We love readers who love us being fierce. 🙂

  • nora snowdon
    July 28, 2013 at 3:06 am

    hmm, i don’t read as depressing and angst-ridden books as i devoured in my teens having had enough of that in real life, instead i mostly seek out comedies. i assume, however, my predilection is based on life experiences rather than my body parts.
    i also prefer characters with an edge, too sweet heroines, or the overly sensitive hero tend to activate my gag reflex.
    great post!

    • cmkempe
      July 28, 2013 at 6:47 am

      Thanks, Nora! There are all kinds of reasons to like this character or that one. 🙂

    • madelineiva
      July 28, 2013 at 8:09 am

      I’ve gone years in my life where I only wanted comedies. But I love very perverse stuff as well. Stuff that makes my eyeballs pop open wide.

      • cmkempe
        July 28, 2013 at 10:43 am

        I like dark stuff, so it was a big change to start up romance and have fun.

  • cmkempe
    July 30, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Reblogged this on C. Margery Kempe and commented:

    Do you have to be?

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