Today in Prime Writing, Elle E. Ire is here to tell us about one of the more difficult tasks an author faces—making unlikeable characters likeable—and how she brought the lessons learned from past experience to bear in her debut novel, VICIOUS CIRCLE.
When I sat down to write Vicious Circle‘s main character, Cor Sandros, I already knew I had my work cut out for me. I’d written an earlier novel with an assassin female lead, and while it earned me agent representation, it never sold. The feedback I received made it clear that readers “couldn’t connect with the protagonist.” The protagonist was “too cold, too unfeeling” to be likeable. I needed to do something different with Cor.
My first step was making her a hero, at least in some people’s eyes. Yes, she’s an assassin for hire. Yes, she kills people for a living. But Cor only kills those who severely harm and kill others—the child murderers, the genocidal maniacs, the serial rapists. She’s known as the “Core of Sardonen” because she has a reputation for taking only the “right” jobs, the heart-tuggers, the helpless cases.
Next, I made Cor fallible. She makes mistakes, gets herself into trouble, and after suffering some serious injuries defending herself for a righteous cause, she becomes addicted to a pain-killing narcotic called Palotrin. Readers watch her struggle with this addiction, fight to overcome it, and sometimes fail. She’s human, and she’s not perfect.
Last, I gave her heart. When the novel opens, Cor has known desire. She’s known sexual attraction. But she’s never known love. And though she doesn’t realize it at first, the primary piece missing from her life isn’t being a member of the Assassins Guild where she grew up. It is a desire to love and be loved—no matter the cost to her health or her heart. I won’t tell you whether or not she succeeds in fitting that missing piece into place. That would be giving away too much. But the struggle to do so makes her human, relatable, and, I hope, likeable.
All in all, Cor is a character who tries to do the right thing, agonizes over her mistakes, wonders if she’s made the right choices in her life, and cries when those she cares for betray her—things we all do and can understand.
Even after all this, I knew I wouldn’t get everyone on Cor’s side. Killing is bad. Killing is wrong. And some readers won’t get past that. But as writers, we can’t please everyone. The brutal universe Cor lives in sometimes requires brutal measures for the good and law-abiding citizens to go on about their lives. With someone like Cor on the job, the universe can sleep at night—unless you’re the bad guy.
Elle E. Ire resides in the Disney-created town of Celebration, Florida, with her spouse, twin daughters, and two dogs. A graduate of the University of Miami, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing, but left the MFA program when they refused to allow her to write genre fiction. Currently, she teaches writing courses to seventh graders. VICIOUS CIRCLE is her first published novel.
Buy VICIOUS CIRCLE at Amazon