Why? Is the first question you ask. Why should I write characters that are relatable? What about villains? The bad guys? The killers? The perverts? The awful awful people that do bad bad things? Well, here is the deal. Even the awfulest people are human. And by human I mean, we all simply want to be loved and to love. We may have a ton of shit piled up from the past, a ton of fear and anger, to the point when we want to kill somebody. Still. Killers feel too. They kill because they feel. Pain. A tremendous amount of pain. So much pain that they don't know it's pain anymore. They're human, not robots. They have feelings. Think about the last book you read with a really evil character. Somebody so horrible, you couldn't possibly root, but you did. I can tell you one. I read AMERICAN PSYCHO and even though I should've felt hate and disgust, I rooted for Patrick Bateman. Why? Because he was human. He doubted himself, he tried to find love and beauty in things, albeit, the wrong way, but you could feel it, see it, identify with it, perhaps think about that time you squished a bug to see what's inside and realizing you killed it and feeling bad and sorry and...you know. All of us had these moments.
Why? Again, you ask. Why are you writing about this now? Well. I read a lot. To learn how to write better. Once I start reading a book, even if I don't like it, I finish it. I make myself. Because from every book I learn something new. And lately it's been bugging me, this question. Why are some books harder to read than others? I've read plenty of books where the writing is beautiful, the sentences are constructed with such precision, they sing. Every word is selected with care. You could kiss each page, it's so perfect. And yet. And yet. Yet I want to put the book down or outright throw it out the window. The feelings are that intense. I thought, strange. Why would that be? This book has been published, people are reading it. Many people are reading it. Is something wrong with me? Then I wondered about the ongoing whining in the media about adults reading YA books and how unfortunate that is. Or people condemning other people who read TWILIGHT, or FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, or insert any other book title here that you heard from others is somehow awful. Yet people read them. Many people. Many many people. So many people that it truly boggles your mind. Why?
Because the characters are relatable.
You can forgive anything else in the story. The not-so-perfect grammar, not-so-perfect plot, even no-so-perfect writing itself (like purple prose, you know), if you can relate to the characters, because what we really write about is people. And people are imperfect, yet they are never plain bad or plain good. There are always two sides of the coin. Even the most horrible antagonist will have heart. In may be weird, perverted, it may manifest in strange little things like collecting beautiful stones or, worse, collecting beautiful skulls. This delusion will make you cry. Like, let's say, a killer collects victim's heads. Freezes them, or preserves them, then talks to them. When alone, talks to them. Yes, it's horrible and blood-chilling and revolting, but on the other hands it's tragic. You can feel the pain. The killer is so lonely, so inept when it comes to relationships, that the only way for him or her possible to have any relationships is by force, by killing those he or she likes and then having them as friends, on his or her terms. (You just wait, I am going to write a book about a woman serial killer).
Your characters can't just be plain bad. They will bore the reader to tears, and they won't be relatable. I know, I'm guilty of this myself. When I started out writing SIREN SUICIDES, I had so much hate and anger in me, that I portrayed Roger, the siren hunter, as a plain bad guy. I could've done better. I didn't know any better back then. I do now. And I keep getting astounded when big popular books seem to do the same mistake. When the characters are so flat, it makes me think why these books were even published in the first place and what kinds of people read these books and enjoy them. And I know. Every book has its place. Every book is awesome, because even if the only person who read it is the writer, that writer got therapy out of writing it. And so people who read books with plain flat characters are people who are going through tough times in their lives and can identify with tons of negative emotions.
I'm past that. I don't feel anger and hate anymore. It's why it's hard for me to write IRKADURA (I have to go back to that hate place every day), it's why it's hard for me to read books with characters that are full of negativity. I don't identify with them anymore. This is why those books are great, despite me not liking them. Those books give reprieve to those who are in that place right now. The thing is, though, not very many people are. Most people can't feel intense negativity for long. It's hard. We want to be loved and love and feel love. That is why we love to read books like TWILIGHT. That's why it's hard for us to read complex literary works that have suffering and more suffering and more suffering in them and unhappy endings. We have enough shit on our plates in life, we really want to be uplifted, not ground into more darkness.
So. If you have a lot of negativity sitting in you, please, write it out. You will feel better. If you can, though, try giving it some humanity. Root for that inside yourself. No matter how awful you feel, there is goodness and beauty and love inside you. Show it. Through your characters, show it. People will root for your characters. They will forgive your other mishaps. Write characters that others can relate to, if you want a bigger and wider audience.
And yet, don't listen to me. Write what you want. It's truly something you have to decide for yourself, as an artist. Don't let anyone direct you or tell you what to do. But I thought I'd share this insight, because it struck me this week. As it always does. Things strike me, you know. I gotta start wearing a helmet.