Loving the Unlikable: My Favorite Female Characters

Creating an unlikeable but compelling character is perhaps one of the most difficult components of crafting fiction. How do you hit that sweet spot of unlikability without turning the audience off them? 

Read an excerpt from Marianne Delacourt's Too Sharp!

As with any well-developed character, revealing their motivation is usually the key. We all know that cardboard baddies are boring and hard to invest in; whereas, conflicted, driven, flawed, gnarly characters can be so endlessly fascinating. Heck, we can even empathize with them on some level. Think of Dexter or Hannibal Lector or Walter White.

Those guys spring immediately to mind, don’t they? 

And there’s the rub: the unlikable characters who we love to hate are more often male. You should check out some of the many opinion pieces written about why that’s the case. (It doesn’t take much of a Google to find them.)

So, today I’m celebrating a few of my favorite unlikable female characters in film and fiction. Women who I can’t look away from and who have taught me something. 

  • Amy Dunne in Gone Girl: Oh Amy, your psychopathy is riveting. You are so clever and so manipulative and so good at getting what you want.
  • Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind: Scarlett, your survival instinct is truly admirable. It made me give a damn about myself.
  • Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica (reimagined): Starbuck, you really made me feel totally OK about being cranky most if the time. Thank you!
  • Olivia Pope in Scandal: My girl Liv knows how to take on the big dogs and win. She IS the big dog. Her Minnie Me's—Abby Whelan and Quinn Perkins—are right up there with her too. I just adore Quinn’s dysfunctional dark-arsed behavior.
  • Gemma Teller Morrow in Sons of Anarchy: Gemma, you scare me, you crazy mother-bitch.
  • Bernadette Maryann Rostenkowski-Wolowitz in The Big Bang Theory: Bernie, how can I learn how to be such a sugar-coated, short-tempered dominator?

So come on everyone, tell me in the comments section who your best bad gals are!!

Check out Marianne Delacourt's Top Female Crime and Mystery Authors!

 

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Marianne Delacourt is the alter ego of award-winning, internationally-published Science Fiction writer Marianne de Pierres. Renowned for dark satire in her Science Fiction, Marianne offers lighter, funnier writing under her Delacourt penname. As Delacourt, Marianne is also the author of Young Adult fiction series Night Creatures(Burn BrightAngel Arias and Shine Light). She is a co-founder of the Vision Writers Group and ROR – wRiters on the Rise, a critiquing group for professional writers. Marianne lives in Brisbane with her husband and two galahs.

Comments

  1. Liz G

    Lady Macbeth – she’s a strong character who works with all the patriarchy allows her. Totally misunderstood 🙂

  2. Alix

    Excellent. I’m going with Mystique from X-Men.

  3. Lori P

    No list of scheming, unlikeable female characters is complete without Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury) in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) in The Last Seduction (1994). Coincidentally I saw these movies back to back on a Mother’s Day weekend. So grateful my mother was nothing like Raymond Shaw’s mom (Lansbury)!

  4. Bec

    Great post. It really makes you think! I’d have to say Mrs Danvers from Rebecca, Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, Annie Wilkes from Misery, Catherine Tramell from Basic Instinct, and Elle Driver from Kill Bill.

  5. Joel83

    I’ll have to look into some of those books/shows and see how I feel about the characters. Figuring out unlikeable female characters is so difficult. If I like them, I always assume everyone else does too. I think Pride and Prejudice’s Mrs Bennet is villified unjustly. Her manners might be a little coarse, but trying to marry her daughters off to the best guys available is kind of good sense, given their situation. I love Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn 99 (but doesn’t everyone?). Regina in Once Upon a Time is amazing. Azula from Last Airbender. Faith from Buffy. In books, I’d have to think a bit harder. A couple of characters from Monstrous Regiment, I guess. Some of Angela Slatter’s more vicious characters.

  6. Alison Mather

    I love Maggs Bennett from Justified. She’s just as sweet as her apple pie 🙂 and as crafty as hell. Malificent from the film of the same name. I liked her just as well before her motivations were explained. Pam from the True Blood novels, because you can never be entirely sure which way she’s going to jump. Nikki Grant from Big Love, for her frightening selfishness and constant willingness to burn the whole house down. Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks, for having the whole town wrapped around her finger. Pattie from Damages, can anyone play Deep Space cold like Glenn Close? Selina from Veep. yes, she’s hilarious but her threats are legend.
    I could go on and on…

  7. Marianne de Pierres

    Oh Alison, Mags Bennett is the bomb! And that of course means Loretta McCready as well.
    Thanks for your comments everyone.

  8. Helen Martin

    Without a doubt Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven. Her single-minded focus when her “perfect life” is thwarted is amazing. She’s so beautiful on the outside and yet morally bankrupt.

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