Bookish Musings: Why Readers Like Characters Who Have Done Awful Things (+ Some Thoughts on The Vampire Chronicles)

 
 

The  creation of this post has been a curvy path. The original idea came about because of something in The Vampire Chronicles that got me thinking. I tried to write about it, but then I ended up on this whole tangent of why readers might still like a character who has done something bad or seemingly unforgivable. So I decided to shift the focus—instead of talking about one specific series, I’d talk about why we as readers sometimes still love characters who’ve done bad things.

So here we are! Here are my thoughts on the topic, plus a little sidetrack about The Vampire Chronicles because I still couldn’t quite get that incident out of my head.

*Warning: This post contains mentions of rape/sexual assault.*

 

 

Characters Who’ve Done Bad Things

Lestat, the MC in The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, rapes a woman on-page in one of his books.

Reaver, the MC in the Fallocaust series by Quil Carter, rapes his boyfriend on-page in the first book.

Sir Robot IV, from the Saga comic series by Brian K. Vaughan, has murdered innocent people, including children (I think).

Henry, the main character in Something Wicked by Carol Oates, was Jack the Ripper.

Snape, a character in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, is prejudiced and bullies children.

None of these characters has a legitimate excuse (e.g. they weren’t being mind-controlled or something).

And yet every single one of these characters is loved by at least a few people. Some of these characters are beloved by the masses. Some of these characters are loved by me.

I know that all of these are not well-known, but I was trying to think of the most extreme examples of horrible actions I could in order to prove a point. I know, however, that there are a million more examples out there of characters who are physically and/or emotionally abusive, who’ve stolen things, who’ve cheated on partners, and who’ve generally just done some pretty crappy things.

 

So Why Is It that We Sometimes Still Love These Characters?

Well, I have some theories.

Personally, I know that I can forgive a character for A LOT if they admit to what they did wrong, feel remorse, learn from their mistakes, and truly try to be a better person. And even if I can’t 100% forgive what they did, I can at least overlook it enough to still love the character and root for them.

In some cases, I can’t forgive or overlook what a character did, I still think they’re a crappy person, but I find them fascinating as a character, so I “like” them in that way.

Another possible reason is that sometimes people make a connection to a character, maybe they see parts of themselves in the character, maybe the character is there for them when times are tough and no one else is, and so they feel conflicted because they know the character has done bad things that they shouldn’t overlook, yet they do because they need that character.

Or maybe we sometimes understand why a character did something, we understand what led them to it, so we sympathize with them even though we know they’re wrong (e.g. sympathetic villains).

I think the important thing to remember is that we never know a person’s reasons for liking things. And it’s far easier to forgive fictional characters for things, or to simply overlook the parts of them we dislike, than it is to forgive real people. And if you’ve never experienced whatever bad thing it is the character has done (sexual assault, abuse, murder, manipulation, theft, etc.) in real life, then it’s probably even easier to forgive a character for that particular thing. At least, I know I personally usually have a harder time forgiving characters when their bad actions are something I’ve experienced myself. Plus, books are a way for readers to safely explore things in their minds without the consequences of real life. I believe it’s ok sometimes to like things in books that you wouldn’t be ok with in real life as long as you understand why they’re problematic.

 

Rape in The Vampire Chronicles

*Warning: This section contains discussion of rape and description of a scene that may be triggering, as well as minor spoilers for The Vampire Chronicles series.*

Since this is what spawned the idea for this post in the first place, I still wanted to talk about it.

There have been two instances of rape in what I’ve reread of The Vampire Chronicles so far (Books 1-4). The first was that of Maharet and Mekare by Khayman (it was revealed in the second book but happened long ago when they were all still human). In that scenario, he was ordered to do it by his king. If he had refused, he would’ve been killed, and someone else would’ve been ordered to do it, and/or Maharet and Mekare might’ve been killed. It would’ve happened anyway even if he’d refused, and it probably would’ve been a lot worse because Khayman actually did care about the twins in some way and didn’t want to hurt them. He didn’t want to do it, but he did it anyway, and I kind of understand his reasons. Also, he’s one of the oldest vampires there is, probably thousands of years old, and he still thinks about what he did and seems to feel honestly remorseful. Because he feels honestly and truly remorseful, and because I understand his reasons, I’m actually able to look beyond what he did and still find him likeable. And I have to admit, I was surprised to find that I could still sympathize with a character and find them likeable after that.

But it was Lestat’s rape of a woman in The Tale of the Body Thief that really got me thinking because I feel like it’s a general consensus that rape is one of the few things readers will never forgive a character for, and yet, Lestat does it and is still seemingly one of the most beloved literary characters there is. And the thing is, his scenario was nothing like Khayman’s. He wasn’t in a bad spot and trying to make the best decision possible, just overwhelmed and drunk because he was in a human body for the first time in centuries. Would he have done it if he hadn’t been so overwhelmed and mentally out of it? I don’t know. But he himself admitted that, in that moment, he had enjoyed her struggle, enjoyed “conquering her,” because it called to the predatory vampire part of him. And afterward, he felt shame, but, to me, it seemed less like empathy for how she must feel and more like a selfish kind of shame for the whole experience in general.

The whole thing seemed overwhelmingly dismal. It filled me with despair. The pleasure itself had been nothing!

A dull shame had come over me, a feeling of such awkwardness and discomfort in the slightest gesture I made or smallest word I spoke that I wanted simply to sink into the earth.

How fragile she looked—how sadly unbeautiful and repulsive.

I tried to see her as if I were really Lestat. But I couldn’t do it. She appeared a common thing, utterly worthless, not even interesting. I was vaguely horrified.

As it was, I felt filthy for having been with her, and filthy for being cruel to her. I understood her fear of disease! I, too, felt contaminated!

These quotes seem especially harsh out of context—you have to remember that Lestat is a centuries old vampire, he’s not used to human bodies, the smells and things that normally wouldn’t bother him as a vampire because he felt distanced from them made him repulsed and nauseous as a human, etc. The whole experience of being human again did not go as he expected it would, and most of it was miserable for him. Food and drink, for example, were equally as repulsive to him at first. His POV is completely different from any I’ve ever read because he is so very not-human, and that’s one of the things I personally love most about these books. And later in the book, he proved that, if nothing else, he learned from his mistake and used a condom with the next woman and made sure not to force her.

Regardless of all that though, I do NOT forgive Lestat. Unlike Khayman, he didn’t even seem remorseful. What happened was just a tiny blip on Lestat’s radar; he brought the woman a jeweled rosary as recompense later, but he moved on from the whole thing immediately in terms of emotion/guilt. I feel uneasy about what he did and don’t know how to feel about him as a character. Then again, Lestat has never been my favorite character in the series, despite it being mostly about him, and I still haven’t quite forgiven him for some of the other things he’s done either (I’ve talked about those other things in my reviews).

But it made me wonder if, in addition to all the reasons above, there are some other possible reasons for why he in particular seems to be able to get way with anything, like…

Maybe many of the people who love him haven’t read this book and so they simply don’t know about that scene. Or maybe they’ve read the book but have forgotten. (We all know how easy it is to forget what happens in books.)

Maybe, because he’s a vampire and therefore has different morals and an entirely different perception of the world, people hold him to a different standard than they hold normal human characters.

Or maybe Anne Rice is just a wizard who can break all the rules of writing and have readers love her books and characters regardless.

 

Wrapping Up My Thoughts

Again, I’m not trying to shame anyone for the characters or books that they like or dislike. I just wanted to share my thoughts on a character’s actions and point out that maybe there is no one thing that is always entirely unforgivable in books, that it always depends on the circumstance and the reader, and to muse about how there are lots of reasons a reader might still like a certain character even if they’ve done awful things.

 
 
 

Talk to me!

Do you have any favorite characters who've done bad things?
Do you think it's easier to forgive fictional characters than real people?
Can you think of any other reasons readers sometimes still like characters who've done bad things?

 

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62 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: Why Readers Like Characters Who Have Done Awful Things (+ Some Thoughts on The Vampire Chronicles)

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  1. Greg

    I think in some ways we like characters who do bad things because in real life we can’t explore the same issues, at least not in the same way? Like let’s face it book characters make moral choices that we can’t or won’t (probably a good thing!) so we can sorta vicariously live that out? IDK :)

    Your examples though are pretty serious ones, and yeah those hings are hard to overlook. the example I always think of is Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones- sleeps with his sister, throws a kid out a window, not a nice guy- but in the third book he becomes sympathetic in spite of the fact that he doesn’t exactly apologize for any of it! We learn why he is the way he is, and many of us fans love the guy even though he’s done horrible things. It is a conundrum…

    I do think too that you’re right, it is easier to forgive imaginary characters, because they’re imaginary! Lestat probably wouldn’t get a pass in real life from anybody, but like you said some people can overlook that scene for whatever reason., Not that anyone LIKES it of course, but like Jaime Lannister, the guy is horrible but on some level we admire him for different reasons?

    Anyway- great discussion!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I definitely think books can be a way to explore things we wouldn’t in real life, so it makes sense that might be a reason we still those kinds of characters. I guess sometimes we even want the characters to make morally gray or bad choices if it will be more interesting.

      It’s surprisingly easy to overlook things in books sometimes. Especially if you show the character doing bad things first, then slowly make them more sympathetic, we readers just kind of forget how awful they were and start supporting them.

      But oh yes, I’ve forgiven characters for things I’d never forgive real people for!

      Thanks :-)

    2. Lindsi

      I forgot about Jaime Lannister! I will never forgive him for the things he did, but then he does try to be a better person, almost like he needed time to grow himself, BUT he should have been better. There are a lot of other characters on GOT that have been beaten and bloodied and still remain honorable characters.

      Do You Dog-ear?

      Lindsi recently posted: DNF&Y #2 - The Official Launch!

      1. Greg

        Right? I think his arc in Storm of Swords is so good because we see why he is the way he is, going all the way back, and I found myself really liking him despite the fact that it didn’t excuse some of what he did?

        Greg recently posted: Bookcover Spotlight #143

        1. Kristen Burns

          Ok I don’t have anything to add here but if I don’t reply then your comment will just be in my “missing reply” section forever, sorry for the intrusion lol. It’s a real oversight on the part of whoever created the plugin.

      2. Kristen Burns

        I haven’t read/seen this, but I’ll chime in. That’s how I often feel too when someone tries to excuse a character’s behavior by saying they went through struggles or whatever. There are other characters and people who’ve been through those same struggles and still didn’t become a bad person themselves.

  2. sjhigbee

    This is a really interesting article. The series that came into my mind is the Thomas Covenant series, in which he commits a rape while thinking he is in some sort of dream. I immediately put the book down and didn’t go further, but my husband (and unusually kind and gentle soul) loves this series and isn’t the only one. I suppose if we are going to be at all committed to our fiction, then the characters do have, in some part, to mirror us and our frailties and weaknesses. People do terrible things – and if there is going to be any sort of intelligent dialogue about why that happens, then we need someone who isn’t a pantomime villain to be the perpetrator so that it can be explored in some way.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! That’s very true, that people do terrible things, and so it makes sense that some characters would too. And if they didn’t, if every non-villain character was perfect, there wouldn’t be nearly as much dialogue or exploration about these things. Interesting thoughts!

  3. Jen

    Lestat is my favourite literary character. I had forgotten about the rape scene like you said I first read the books ages ago. Maybe it’s just that since he’s a vampire and obviously not real you can over look this since it’s fantastical and you might see it differently if he was a human character? Interesting thought. But it’s been too long since I reread the first books. Maybe we should blame Anne Rice I don’t love all her books and maybe she made a mistake

    1. Kristen Burns

      Honestly I was afraid I was going to offend Lestat fans everywhere and that really wasn’t my goal, so I’m glad to see one commenting lol. I figured there was a good chance many people just forgot or didn’t know about that particular scene. It’s so easy to forget things like that, especially when we like a character or want to like them. And Lestat is so inhuman that I feel like it makes sense in a way to hold him to different standards. I mean, we let supernatural creatures get away with murder without thinking too much of it usually. It’s interesting to think about.

      1. Jen

        It’s good to debate about things. People shouldn’t worry about offending but share thoughts and agree to disagree ☺ your post did make me think which is great

        1. Kristen Burns

          Definitely! In fact I enjoy hearing different opinions about things like this. Unfortunately the internet is fraught with people offending people (sometimes by accident) and people getting offended lol.

  4. Daniela Ark

    wow those quotes are indeed something! I don;t remember this in the movies so it must be in the books only? I think we also like dark characters because we want to think about where we stand related to what they are doing and what we would do if faced with such evil. At least I do think about that when I read villains. Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Interview movie is only based on the 1st book. Queen of the Damned is somewhat based on the 2nd and 3rd books. This scene happens in the 4th book, so no, not in the movies. But ooh, I hadn’t really thought of it that way. That does make sense that darker characters who make amoral or questionable decisions do allow us to think about where we stand in relation. Thank you, you’ve given me even more thoughts to ponder!

  5. Karen

    I struggled with this in The Captive Prince series. First we have Laurent who orders awful things to be done to Damen and looks away at many other things like pedophilia/rape. But then there are reasons and I liked how the author didn’t sugarcoat anything and made them confront the abuses and slavery. But I was just as troubled by Damen thinking his use of slaves was ok because he treated them well. Like it was an honor to serve him because he’s a nice guy. Still slaves without choice IMO. That’s the most recent book example I can think of.

    I find it much more in TV and to be honest I have a problem when the person is treated as a hero – like Tony Soprano or Dexter. I can’t really ignore the bad things they do because they also might have a soft side. And the shows seem to be telling you hey! they’re bad but also lovable and nope, I can’t do that. But in something like Breaking Bad – I liked Walt as a character (not as a person) because they never claimed he was a hero – they were just telling his story.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that some characters can be redeemed in my eyes or maybe have extenuating circumstances (survival) & I can still like them or at least understand but I can’t love a character who does bad things and doesn’t have remorse or because he’s also nice in other areas of his life but I can *like* a bad character as a great portrayal of a flawed person.

    Karen @ For What It’s Worth

    Karen recently posted: whatever wednesday

    1. Kristen Burns

      I hadn’t thought about Captive Prince while writing this, but that’s a good one for this discussion too. Laurent did do awful things to Damen, yet I loved his character by the end, I think because I learned more about his situation and really sympathized and understood his actions more. And that’s true that just because the slaves were treated well, that didn’t make that ok either.

      That’s true too. I guess maybe that’s what bothers me so much about Lestat, he’s treated as a hero no matter what he does because hey, he’s had struggles in his past and can be nice too! So I get exactly what you mean. And like you, I sometimes love characters who’ve done awful things when their behavior isn’t lauded as being ok, it just is what it is, and their character is well-written.

      I get it, and I feel the same way! You’ve summarized my personal thoughts on bad characters perfectly lol.

      1. Karen

        And I agree about Lestat. I like him as a character but I never thought of him as a hero or loved him in that way. I read that particular book so long ago that I don’t remember the rape but I quit reading the series after it so maybe that’s why lol

        Karen recently posted: whatever wednesday

        1. Kristen Burns

          Ah yes, we’re both Louis girls ;-) I figured people just might not remember the scene, but lol maybe that is why you stopped. I’m still curious though what else will happen to all of them.

  6. Rebeccah @ The Pixie ChroniclesRe

    This is such an interesting post, and I definitely think it’s easier to forgive someone fictional as opposed to someone who is real. It’s easy to forget what a fictional character does, bad or not, because it has no negative consequences to anyone. We shut the book and they no longer exist. Or we only see one side of the story and gloss over the other half.

    That being said, sometimes I think people don’t so much as “like” bad character as they do find them “interesting”, which I think are two things that are easy to overlap. I can want to know what happens to an awful character if they’re intriguing or even if I empathize with them, but that won’t mean I actually like them.

    Rebeccah @ The Pixie ChroniclesRe recently posted: Giving Up on Writing

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! I really do think it’s easier too. Like you said, we know their actions don’t actually have negative consequences on any real life people. And that’s very true that it’s easier to overlook when we’re not actually seeing how badly other characters may be affected.

      That’s very true too. It’s difficult when the word ‘like’ can mean various different things. I do sometimes like a character *as a character* but not *as a person* just because they’re super well-written and interesting.

  7. Let's Get Beyond Tolerance

    This is an interesting topic for sure. I think some things are definitely easier to forgive than others, especially if there are certain circumstances involved and the character feels guilt/remorse over their actions. It shows growth, which readers are usually attracted to. However, in the instance of Lestat, I don’t think I could get over that…he doesn’t really seem to care at all, so that would really rub me the wrong way. I personally like shades of gray type of characters, especially the villains so I can usually forgive certain bad behavior. Personally, if I like a “bad” character, there is usually a reason that got me…something good or something they’ve been through, etc.

    -Lauren

    Let's Get Beyond Tolerance recently posted: Etsy Pride: #FebruHARRY2018 Version!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks :-) Exactly! We do love character growth, don’t we? But yes, that’s what I love, seeing characters actually change and try to be better people. Lestat didn’t seem to become better though, which is why I can’t get over it either. Same, I don’t like every “bad” character, but I do like some, so it just depends on whether there’s something about them that got me.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! I really do think it’s easier to forgive fictional characters. That’s understandable, I know many people have limits to what sort of topics or characters they’ll read about.

  8. Aleen @ Lampshade Reader

    To truly like characters who’ve done bad things, they must have redeeming qualities. I agree with what you said that some are just fascinating. I don’t like Jack the Ripper but I’m totally interested (I have many theory books about him), I call it my “sick sort of fascination”. I didn’t like Snape in the beginning, but when more of his backstory came out, I started to empathize with his character. He did some wrong things, made bad decisions, but I couldn’t help feel sorry for him in the end.

    Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I agree, I need them to have redeeming qualities too. That’s true that in general we seem to be fascinated with serial killers, especially Jack the Ripper, so that’s a good point. I still don’t like Snape in any sort of way because I felt like the few good things he did weren’t even for the right reasons, however, he’s a well-written character, and I can see why you felt sorry for him (well, I don’t remember all the details, but I remember some).

      Thanks!

  9. Barb (boxermommyreads)

    What great insight and discussion. Like you, I can feel for a character who feels remorse or might have some extenuating circumstances. I think sometimes I like seeing flaws in characters. I mean who wants to read about perfect people all the time (although I will add rape is not a flaw). I also think sometimes we CAN identify with some traits of some of these people and know they have good in them somewhere. Wow, you really got me thinking!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! I like flawed characters too, and I think I especially like it when they do show remorse and try to redeem themselves. (Although yes, I agree, rape is not a flaw.) And yeah, when you can identify with some of the traits of someone, that does make things more complicated. Glad I could make you think!

  10. Lola

    What an interesting topic. When I started reading this post I got reminded about a book series I read where in the first book the male cheats on the female and they break up, she gets her HEA and in a later book he gets his HEA too. I disliked him for what he did, namely cheating on his girlfriend, but still was curious enough to read his book and I actually enjoyed it more than i thought I would. As when we get his point of view he feels so bad about it and tries to atone for what he did and struggles with it greatly. And it just turned him into a likeable character instead who had done something bad, but I also tough he still deserved to be happy even tough he had a mistake in the past. It was well done how the author wrote his character. And he even falls in love with a women who got cheated upon by her previous boyfriend.

    I also remember a star trek episode where the captain decided to do something bad to other people so they could continue their journey, which was important to protect earth and everyone on it. It was interesting they had to made such a decision and while it did made me sad for the people they wronged, it also felt believable.

    And in Star Gate one of the main characters actually was a bad guy before he joined the good guys and he has done a lot of bad things in his past. It’s not a very emotional series and it doesn’t get addressed a lot, but in one of the later seasons that character talks about it with another character in a similar situation and you realize it still haunts him what he did.

    I think that either understanding why they did something bad or that they now try to be better really helps to keep them likeable despite what they did. And indeed even if you don’t forgive them fully they can still be likeable or an interesting character to read about. Or the character do something bad, but for the right reason, that can be very intriguing as well.

    I also really liked the clone wars tv series in which Anakin does some bad things, but it’s all for the people he cares about. And in that series he still stayed a very likeable character and one of my favorite characters from that series because all his actions are so realistic and believable and it shows how far people can be pushed when they act for those they care about.

    Also a good point that it also matter which bad things we have encountered ourselves or what we find important. Some things I do forgive easier than others or are easier to read about. And there are things that keep bothering me even tough I can still enjoy the book or like the character it will keep bothering me.

    That situation you outlined does sound like it would make me feel uneasy as well. Especially the fact that he moves on from it so easily even tough he did seem to have learned from his mistake. Sorry my comment got so long. I didn’t realize I read so many books and watched series that have characters who do bad things and are still likeable.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! Huh, I do think that would be interesting, that first example you mentioned. I’d be curious to see if I could also enjoy a book about someone who cheated if I got to see their POV. I probably could if they felt bad and everything like you said. The other examples sound cool too.

      I feel like I do tend to like characters who’ve done bad things IF they own up to it and feel remorse and try to change. It seems like that doesn’t happen all that often in real life, seems like most people don’t want to admit to mistakes or try to change, so I feel like that’s why I like characters who do. And yeah, even if I can’t entirely forgive, it can still be intriguing.

      Huh, that does sound like it’d be interesting, to see a character make believable decisions and do bad things but do them for the people he cares about because then that’s almost like you might do the same in that situation too, that it could happen to anyone.

      I’ve definitely noticed I forgive some thing easier than others, and it’s the things I’ve experienced myself that I often find hardest to forgive in books.

      Yeah, I didn’t like how easily he moved on. It just really didn’t matter to him. No worries, I liked hearing all your thoughts!

  11. Lindsi

    I was thinking this wouldn’t apply to me, and I don’t think it does for the most part, but I do love Snape. However, I didn’t love him in the beginning. It wasn’t until I really learned who he was, and how he got to where he is in life, that I really started to like him as a character. Plus, Dumbledore trusted him, and that means something!

    I don’t like reading books about rape, unless it’s a story about a main character learning how to live with that and attempting to move forward with their life. I can’t follow a character around knowing they’ve done this awful thing with little or no consequence. It makes me feel like a bad person for even reading about it, like I’m condoning it in some way.

    If the character does show some remorse like you mentioned, I might be able to finish their story, but only if they are seriously trying to make amends (and it depends on what they did).

    I’m trying to think of books that I liked with characters I hated, but nothing is coming to mind! If I think of something, I’ll be back! Nice thought-provoking post!

    Lindsi recently posted: DNF&Y #2 - The Official Launch!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’m still only on Book 5 of my reread, but last time I read HP, I didn’t feel anything in the whole explanation about Snape made him forgivable, but he’s still a well-written character. I’m actually planning a whole post about my HP thoughts after I finish this reread, so that’d prob be a better place for us to discuss that just in case there’s anybody left who might mind spoilers lol.

      That’s fair. I mean, I generally don’t go around seeking about books with rape, it just comes up sometimes in the books I read, like in the Vampire Chronicles example. But I can understand why you wouldn’t want to read anymore in a series or something if that happened.

      It really does make a difference when the character is genuinely remorseful.

      Thanks!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’m glad someone understands what I was saying and feels the same way. I also have many characters I love reading about but wouldn’t want to be around in real life!

  12. Aimee (Aimee, Always)

    This is an awesome post, Kristen, and I totally agree. Oddly enough, these characters who have done “awful” things usually have a lot more depth to them, and it’s actually a lot of fun and is interesting to get into their heads, to find out what they’re thinking and why they did what they did. Their minds are more complex than those of the heroes, so I think we as readers end up feeling more drawn to them??? And when (or if) they get their redemption arcs, we’re allllll rooting for them!! <3

    Aimee (Aimee, Always) recently posted: I'm Dying of Excitement for These March 2018 YA Books!

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s a good point. It does seem the characters who have done awful things are the ones with the most depth, and I think that’s why I sometimes like them too. It does make their characters super interesting and complex. And I do love when a character actually starts to redeem themselves!

  13. Kei @ The Lovely Pages Reviews

    Oh I love this. I love villains and overall “bad” characters as long as they have a depth to them and aren’t doing it because the plot needs a few more chapters and a conflict before the HEA for its main characters. I have read very few book villains I loved but the TV ones I love are unapologetically bad but they also have redeeming qualities too which brings a nice balance.

    I won’t get into Snape because I love him and I know a lot of readers are conflicted about him.

    I guess what really matters to me is the setting, a bad character in dystopian vs sci-fi or romance will do different things and have different backgrounds so I judge based on that. For example, if any of the Game of Thrones characters did all those horrible things in a YA book I would hate it, obvisouly. It’s all about writting the character in their “right” settings for me to love them despite their flaws or hate them for being over the top and unnecessary.

    Kei @ The Lovely Pages Reviews recently posted: Cover Reveal: Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan & Giveaway

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes, it does make for interesting characters when the villains are truly bad but also have depth and redeeming qualities.

      Understandable. I’m not someone who likes him, but I know many readers do, and really I am not one to judge since I like other “bad” characters.

      Oh that’s true, that the setting and background and genre can make a difference. Lol oh gosh, I never even thought about how awful it would be if someone did post-apoc kinds of things in a YA contemporary.

  14. Danya @ Fine Print

    I think people are fascinated by characters who do terrible things because they’re not things we ourselves have done or would do, you know? The whole idea that some people have hard limits, even when they’re placed in extreme situations. Of course, what makes these characters so interesting and human-feeling (even if they’re supes) is the fact that there are lots of people out there who *would* do those terrible things; readers can picture real people committing these acts, and may even feel empathy for them, without bearing any of the guilt.

    Danya @ Fine Print recently posted: Review: Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews

    1. Kristen Burns

      Oh, I really like your thoughts! That’s a great point, that we like them cuz they do things we wouldn’t. Or maybe because they make us wonder if we might do what they did if we were in a similar situation (obviously I’m not talking about something like sexual assault, but rather doing something bad to protect someone you love or something). And yes, even the especially bad things, there are people out there who would do them, and it’s true that we can feel empathy without the guilt since we know the character’s action isn’t actually affecting anyone. You’ve made me think more!

  15. Carrie @ Cat on the Bookshelf

    I love several bad characters in Harry Potter and Satan from Paradise Lost. I think Game of Thrones (the TV show) has given me a chance to see a character change so much over the years that I find myself loving some bad characters. It gives you a fuller picture of the person, and it works better when the character is compelling. I like Jaime Lannister now I also wonder if some of the love for these bad characters is that there is some freedom in the characters being fictional.

    Carrie @ Cat on the Bookshelf recently posted: Monthly Wrap-Up: February 2018

    1. Kristen Burns

      There are multiple “bad” characters in Harry Potter who are widely beloved. And I haven’t read Paradise Lost, but I think the fact that it’s Satan says enough lol. But yes, it does work better when the character is compelling and you get the chance to see them change and maybe redeem themselves some.

  16. Bookworm Brandee

    I had to come read this post since I recently finished a book where the hero did some bad things – many bad things – and yet he’s a character I like. I think it’s because I knew he was a redeemable character. He felt remorse and he made changes in his life to be a better person. But I’d been thinking about how it is I liked him…. So I love this post in all its timeliness (even if I’m reading it late). I do think it’s easier to forgive fictional characters especially for actions we’ve no experience with. I mean, I love alpha males who go caveman on their women even though that’s something I’d never tolerate in real life. ;) I know that’s minor compared to rape. And things like rape – well, I think forgiveness depends on how the author handles having the perpetrator handle it. In Anne Rice’s case…maybe she really is a wizard.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yay, I love when things happen with perfect timing! I do think the character feeling remorse and being redeemable makes a big difference. And I definitely think it’s easier to forgive fictional characters since we know their actions didn’t actually hurt anyone. But yeah, there are a lot of things I’d hate in real life even if I like reading about them lol. I do think Anne Rice might just be a wizard though because I swear Lestat is the one character who can get away with literally anything and still have people love him.

  17. Olivia Roach

    Immediately when I read this post my mind zooms to two characters who I know have done horrible things but I absolutely loved regardless. One I loved because he was so forgivable, and was always trying to be and do better. The other seemed utterly unrepentant, so I couldn’t say it would be because I forgave him. But in a very twisted way he valued family above all else? And was incredibly loyal. Those are two things I valued, so once I tapped into that I started to like him more and more!

    I guess there are subtle ways to get characters to even like unlikable characters. But I think it also stems from our own nature. We like to rest assured that even if we do bad things, it doesn’t make us entirely bad. We are redeemable and there will still be some people who like us :P

    Olivia Roach recently posted: February Wrap Up! [2018]

    1. Kristen Burns

      The ones who try to do better after their mistakes usually capture my heart. And huh. For something like the second one, I feel like just because a character has redeeming qualities, that still doesn’t make the bad ones forgivable? But it does depend on the specific character and situation, and I can still like a character without actually forgiving them. So I get what you’re saying.

      That’s another great point, we like flawed characters cuz they make us feel like it’s ok that we’re flawed too!

  18. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Isn’t it weird how willing we all seem to be to forgive unforgivable actions by characters? I know I still have a soft spot for Snape even though I fully acknowledge he was petty and the way he treated others was truly awful, but I still kind of like him. I do agree that part of our willingness to forgive the unforgivable is that we connect with certain characters and we do forget some of the terrible things they’ve done. And sometimes it’s easier to like a character who isn’t perfect and does bad things because we also do bad things and we can relate. And sometimes we just haven’t gotten that far into a series to see the bad actions or we are waiting for the epic redemption arc to happen.

    1. Kristen Burns

      It is kind of weird, but I guess there are a whole bunch of reasons why we do. That’s true too, since we ourselves are flawed, we sometimes gravitate to flawed characters cuz they make us feel not so bad about our own flaws.

  19. Cee @ Dora Reads

    ‘Or maybe Anne Rice is just a wizard who can break all the rules of writing and have readers love her books and characters regardless.’ – I think this is 1000% accurate. #JustSaying.

    Maybe there’s an element of ‘the bad boy’ to it all too? Not only would people find it freeing to *not* be bound by either morals or society, there’s also this ‘heal the broken monster’ kind of deal-y! Just some random thoughts.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes, I’m starting to think it is just that she’s a wizard lol.

      Ooh, yes, you’re so right. We (the general ‘we’) do seem to have this “heal the broken monster” fetish. Even I am guilty sometimes of liking that kind of character for that reason. I had not thought of that possible reason!

  20. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer

    What a fascinating discussion Kristen! I actually find this fascinating… I just read a post about unlikable characters and she talked about a similar idea… When a character is unlikable why do we love and accept some like Kaz but then hate on other characters who actually don’t break the law or rape women like in your examples!? I think a lot of that is about the morals of the reader… it really says a lot about a character when you want to root for them despite what they’ve done… it speaks to who you are as the reader… Not that you are a rapist but that you want to see where that leads… <3

    Dani @ Perspective of a Writer recently posted: Foreign Setting in Descendants of the Sun

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! It is strange why we love some but hate others, but there must be reasons! For some reason, certain characters just appeal to us more. I hadn’t even thought of it the way you’re saying, that’s an interesting take on it!

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    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes, I love Sir Robot! Which is surprising because of the awful things he’s done. But he’s had such a big character arc and seems to really regret those things and is trying to be better.

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