The Dreaded Unlikable Character: Yves Santiago

The Dreaded Unlikable Character: Yves Santiago

When Yves Santiago, my main character from The Lust Diaries, first came to me, I knew she would be what folks like to call “an unlikeable character.” I crafted her that way intentionally. Why would I want my main character to come across as unlikeable in a book written completely from her point of view, you ask? Well, after reading and reviewing god knows how many romances, I noticed that readers were willing to accept pretty much anything from the hero as long as the author was able to redeemed in the end. They can be promiscuous, gruff, mean, and sometimes, a downright asshole, and readers would still titter about how they were book boyfriend material. I 100% admit to enjoying romance novels with a gruff, brooding, borderline asshole hero, but I also wondered what would happen if I gave those same characteristics to a heroine?

What exactly is an unlikable character?

An unlikeable character is a character that has little or no pleasant or appealing qualities. Yves Santiago was promiscuous, emotionally stunted, bad with money, impulsive, caustic, and rude when challenged, and on top of that, she’s a shit friend and isn’t the greatest sister, daughter, or Auntie.

To put it more succinctly, Yves is just messy AF.

If she were a real person, I would only deal with her in small doses because while her drama is entertaining, I would not want to be pulled into that vortex on a regular basis.

Now you’re probably wondering how I wrote this completely unlikeable character and managed to escape a shitstorm of 1-star reviews.

That’s easy.

I realized pretty early on that a character doesn’t necessarily need to be likable in order to be entertaining or relatable. Now when it comes to crafting characters, relatable doesn’t always mean the same thing that it does in real life. Relatable just means that her life experiences, her feelings, moods, and actions all make sense for her character and the narrative I created.

This is how I made sure my unlikable character was still relatable:

1. I made sure her motivations informed her thoughts and actions.

Yves Santiago makes a lot bad decisions and most of those decisions are about the men she chose to lie down with. But people make bad decisions in real life and we don’t completely write them off, right? Right. And we don’t write them off because, more often than not, we realize that they have some sort of underlying issue—a reason for their assholish behavior. As I developed her character, I really dug into her central problem in hopes that it would explain and inform her terrible, awful decisions and seemingly random actions. Once found that central problem — the lie that she believes about herself — I just had to figure out how to present her to you, the reader, in the first fifty pages.

Why the first fifty pages?

The first fifty pages is where the author introduces the character and foreshadows or hints at the conflict. It’s also the place where I want to get you invested in what happens to them. That doesn’t mean you have to show my whole hand, I just want to foreshadow her central problem and reveal how it keeps her from living her best life.

2. I made her worth saving.

Some folks might disagree on this point and that’s absolutely fair. Yves ain’t for everybody. But I think we can all agree that it’s very rare that someone is all good or all bad. A hot mess like Yves is redeemable because even though she constantly makes bad and selfish choices, she’s always striving to be a better person. The first and easiest way to do this is to have her acknowledge that she’s a horrible person because of some significant event that happened in her past. Her backstory went a long way toward understanding her goals, motivations, and conflicts and will make the ending more believable.

3. I gave her likable friends and/or family.

This can pretty much be summed up with “who’s in your character’s crew?” Who do they roll with every day? Who seems to be able to not only endure their bullshit but actually seek them out and enjoy their company? Everyone has that someone and an character should too even if they don't acknowledge them.

The likable friend can also be a mirror for your character. A good, likable friend can help you explain or illuminate your character’s issues in a way that doesn’t feel they are making excuses for being an insufferable asshat.

For Yves, that character is Ava Marie. She calls Yves on her bullshit and loves on her when she needs it. Yves serves that same purpose for Ava in The Truth Duet. These two alternate between being at each other’s throats and weeping because they haven’t spent enough time together, but their friendship feels genuine — at least it does to me. Giving Yves that sort of relationship makes her flaws seem less intolerable.

Note how I said less. Yves still had to do the work on her own to overcome her central problem and find her happily ever after.

But that’s it friends! I hope this little dive into Yves Santiago will make her more likable as you read Seventy Two Ours — or at the very least, she will be entertaining and memorable.

So what say you? Are you fond of unlikable characters? Are you willing to give them a chance?

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