I have nothing against the idea of living under a rock, but unless you’ve been doing so for several years, you’ve probably already heard about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat technique for making a character likeable. What I want to talk about today is how to make a character not likeable. Now you’re probably thinking it’s ridiculous to even consider this a challenge. All you need to do to make a character not likeable is get them to kill a cat in scene one and you’re done right?
Well, here’s the problem. In romantic arcs, the main character is supposed to grow to like the love interest. So while you do need to give the main character reason to dislike the love interest initially, you can’t make it something she won’t be able to forgive him for later (like, for example, intentionally running over her cat with his car).
So what can you do instead? Well, this is something I personally struggle with so I thought I’d take a look at some Jane Austen’s romantic arcs in order to see if I could find an answer.
1) Pride & Prejudice. In their first encounter, Mr. Darcy refuses to dance with Elizabeth and then calls her ugly. Later, he also calls her family a bunch of trailer trash (I paraphrase, of course!) This is what I’m going to call Insulting the Cat.
2) Sense and Sensibility. Elinor discovers that Edward is engaged to some self-centered skank from down the road. This is what I’m calling Saying you don’t have a cat when you really have 12 cats, 4 dogs and a donkey named Steve.
3) Emma. Mr. Knightly yells at Emma after she plays a bad game of chess with a bunch of people’s personal lives. This is very similar to #1 in that it is insulting the cat, however it’s not as strong as #1. So while #1 would be like saying, “Your cat is the ugliest, laziest SOB I’ve ever seen and I bet his mother grew up in a ditch,” this is more like, “I don’t dislike your cat. I dislike cats in general.”
And now to work some cat insults into my latest WIP…