I have been told I do characters well. I tend to think that used to be true but I've lost the power somewhere along the line and now struggle a little. I've heard a few times recently that a couple of my characters are unlikeable and that makes me a little sad and a little happy at the same time. I mean, the characters in question are a bit dickish. And I like writing characters like that! Sometimes people are a bit dickish. And I don't mean the character's a dick as in, they're just a nasty douchebag – I mean, they're mostly a good person but have moments of twattishness.
And I think I've always done that. It's not published (yet) but I've had a couple of beta readers tell me that my vain manchild, Ambrose, in The Beautiful Man, is a bit of a tool. And he is, but he's a good guy beneath the swagger. Another beta told me how much she loved him and characters like him, so it may be more of a case of clashing personalities (between character and reader) rather than him being a shitty character.
Same thing with Liam in Otherworld. Some readers adore him. Others think he's a dick. And he is a bit of a dick.
See also Rowan, in Shuttered.
Most recently I've been hearing a couple of 'I just don't like him's from readers about Noah in Whitecott Manor. In fact, I was even warned by my editor that he was coming over as unlikeable in a couple of instances and I refuted the fact and carried on. Thing is, Noah is young – I don't mention his age but I imagine him to be early twenties – and he's probably been babied by his parents. He's been in a toxic controlling relationship and when he comes out of that, he does tend to act a bit bratty because he's free and he wants to do his own thing finally. He probably is a bit selfish, and high maintenance, and because we don't get to read anything from his POV we don't see any of his inner workings. But ultimately, he is a nice guy. He wouldn't hurt anybody and when he grows up, and he's allowed to grow up, he'll make a very good partner. Should I have toned him down? I'm not sure.
Then I have the characters who are dicks in the bad way. They're team evil. Like Max in the not-yet-published-I've-not-even-finished-writing-it-yet Locke & Co. He's a dick and he knows it. He's a demon so it's kinda his raison d'etre. But he has moments where he's almost, almost, a nice guy. I wonder what the reaction to him will be like – I've already had one beta warn me he's possibly too creepy.
Of course I want all my characters to be liked, even the ones who are meant to be bad guys, but when a character I thought was reasonably likeable is disliked by readers it can be a little disheartening. I mean, I know they're a dick, but why can't you see their cuddly inner core? This character's a good person, liiiiike them, pleeeease! *ahem* And there's the writer angst. Am I just not doing this as well as I thought I was?
Still, to get an emotional response from a reader, whether that emotion is love or hate, is pretty good anyway so I'll take it. I'm a little bit happy and a little bit sad. And I'll carry on writing the dicks anyway.