Wednesday 29 January 2020

Likeability - by Nick Garlick

I’ve just finished a story about five arguing sisters stuck on an island, who learn to bury their differences and work together to do something good. It started out with one of them sympathetic and the other four not. Gradually, she won them over until they all became sympathetic and the story ended happily.

It didn’t work.

The sympathetic sister was fine. She got to go exploring and face danger and fight for What Was Right. The problem was the other four. What I’d hoped would be a story about how people can change for the better by working together, had actually turned into a story about annoying characters the reader didn’t want to spend any time with. Try as I might, all they ever seemed to do was argue, and the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation I was aiming for became harder and harder to achieve. The story was no fun to read and wasted pages in endless, frustrating confrontations.

It’s not impossible to do this. Eric Frank Russell once wrote a terrific story – Somewhere a Voice – about a thoroughly unpleasant individual who becomes an admirable hero. I read it over forty years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. Paddy Considine’s film Tyrannosaur is about a ghastly character you grow to love. It can be done.



Just not by me.

I’m not trying to justify giving up, but to say that a lesson has finally sunk in. Writing this current story has taught me that I’m probably best at creating characters who are all likeable in their own special way. From the beginning. So instead of focusing on the sisters’ arguments, I paid more attention to what made them different. Instead of starting out dis-liking some of them, I began by finding in them their positive side.

When I did that, the story began to work. The sisters still argue. At the beginning, they fight constantly. But by concentrating on what I liked about each of them I’ve made them – I hope – all likeable. And if they’re all likeable, then the reader will enjoy seeing them change, and rejoice in their eventual victory.

That’s the theory, anyway. It’s off to publishers now. Let’s hope they agree.


Enid Richemont said...

Your characters just wanted to be understood, Nick. Hope the book does brilliantly!

Nick Garlick said...

Good point, Enid. I wasn't understanding them; I was judging them, and finding them wanting.