Compelling characters are a must, everyone knows that from readers to writers. If your main character isn’t compelling, then who is going to want to read your book? Pretty much no one. A while back, on tumblr, I watched a debate unfold between those who were pro-Bella Swan and those who were anti-Bella Swan.
Those against her thought Mrs. Meyers shouldn’t have written a girl that centers her whole world around her boyfriend and who would date a stalker. They thought she was teaching teens about bad habits, after all, one would hope that girls wouldn’t find it attractive if a guy watched her as she slept before they even really got to know each other. In the real world, that’s some scary shit.
Those for her said that Mrs. Meyers has the right to write a girl that bases everything upon her relationship and is kind of spineless (or they liked her character). One person in particular said, “everyone has the right to write a pathetic character if they want to. Mrs. Meyer’s doesn’t have to write a story that will teach teens about proper morals.”
I’m not going to get into the Twilight debate, it’s pointless and just goes around and around. The fact is, Twilight sold like crazy which means Mrs. Meyers must have wrote a compelling character. A character that people could invest themselves in.
I believe you don’t need to write a moral righteous book — after all, if you are blatantly trying to teach teens a lesson they’ll hate it. I hate it, too. It’s also true you can write an utterly pathetic, scum-of-the-earth, character if you so desire. But if you want the book to sell, your character still needs to be compelling for some reason. I think the greatest example I can use is the British novel High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.
I read it in high school, mostly because a guy I had a crush on lent his book to me. I had no idea what it was about and I don’t think I would have ever picked up otherwise. The main character is Rob Fleming and he is probably one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever spent an entire book with. He cheats on his girlfriend, pretty much acts like a pathetic asshole the entire book, and yet I enjoyed it. And no, it’s not just because my crush recommended it.
Hornby managed to make an otherwise unlikable character likeable. Fleming was someone almost everyone can find a connection to. Most of us have that relationship that ended when we wound rather it not have, and if that certain someone came crawling back we might even fantasize about making them suffer a bit more. We all love something that we know will fade with time (for Fleming, it was records). Those are just the first ones that come time mind. It’s been years since I’ve read it, but I still remember how I felt reading it. That’s a sign of a good book.
Any type of character, even the unlikable, can become compelling. You just have to figure out how to do it.