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?
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!!
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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 Bright, Angel 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.