Reviewers of Fire so far seem to have mixed opinions about its protagonists: some like Jasmine for her desire to help those she loves, but take a strong dislike to the selfish, sometimes cruel, Roxy. Other's like Roxy's intensity, but find Jasmine a bit frustrating. To an extent, this divide was something that I consciously tried to create: I wanted my characters to contrast each other and to be, truly, fundamentally quite different.
With Roxy, I was creating a character who starts out as a product of her environment, of her upbringing, yet slowly learns to think for herself and to form her own opinions and judgements. Roxy grows most throughout the first novel and her personality continues to develop through out the series. Jasmine, on the other hand, is going to have a lot of 'growing up' to do in the next two books. Despite being the 'good' protagonist (if I'm putting it simply) she does make selfish decisions, particularly at the end of Fire, and she will have to live with the repercussions of these as her story progresses.
When I was writing Fire, I loved that Roxy wasn't perfect and that she can be quite dark: when she first meets Brae she relishes her task - she is looking forward to killing him. However, I worried that Jasmine was the weaker of the pair and that she was a bit dull in comparison. When the very first person read Fire, therefore, I was shocked to find that he loved Jasmine, but found Roxy really difficult to connect to - he didn't like her at all.
But do you have to like what a character does to like reading about them? Does an unlikeable character affect a reader's enjoyment of a novel? These questions were prompted by my finishing a novel called 'Beware of Pity' by Stefan Zweig ( I read the translation by Anthea Bell). I loved almost everything about this novel. It is set just prior to the beginning of World War One and follows a young solider who falls prey to his own pity and desire to do good, ultimately (and inevitably) causing heartache and disaster through his actions. The story offers an excellent insight into human failings and explores its protagonist's decision making process in great depth. There was one, very interesting quirk to it though and I'm sure, given the subject of this post, that you can guess what it is:
I didn't like the protagonist at all.
But that doesn't mean that I didn’t like reading about him. He is young, naïve and weak. He rationalises his decisions to the reader throughout, yet I always disagreed with him and could tell that what he was doing was going to end badly. But if he hadn't been like that, there would have been no story at all. The plot, as the story of a less-flawed character, just wouldn't have worked.
It reminded me of the novels I love by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner: books with fascinating plot lines and suburb settings, but indifferent, flawed characters. Perhaps this is why my own characters aren't completely likeable. I am, of course, not trying to compare my writing to the works of these writers - I'm not delusional with regard to my ability. But I do think that they have impacted the way I view characters as a writer; they have shaped my image of what a character should be.
You should question what a character does and their motivation for doing it, and you shouldn't always agree with them. To be successful, a character should make you think; not make you like them.