There has been a lot of debate in the writing world over the last few weeks about what sort of fictional characters are best: likable or unlikable. I have no idea. But here’s what I’m looking for.
What I’m looking for:
I like characters that come to me with all they own in plastic bags.
I like characters that like me because I like them and together we are likable and like the world.
I like characters that sing in the night after the fires go out.
I like characters that get out of the book and tuck me in at night and whisper to me that all will be well unless, of course, it isn’t. And, they say, it never is.
I like characters who drink liquors at inappropriate times.
I like them when they yell at other likable characters. I even like them when they are unlikable or mean to their mothers and the poor. But not if they kick dogs.
I like characters that swim upstream against the different drummer and they all have beats that overlap and metaphors that balk against being metaphors.
I like characters that plot. And scheme. And sometimes use poisons most foul.
I like characters that sneak up behind the innocent and bury axes in skulls.
I like characters that come unglued when they see the word fuck scrawled somewhere.
I like characters that would hate me if they ran into me. I love you, I’d say. Go pound sand, they’d say.
I like characters that have superpowers but don’t realize it and never use them, not even once. But you have superpowers, I’d say. What are you talking about? they’d respond.
I like characters that live innocently for years thinking that the world is beautiful and then are subjected to the awful realities of existence and come away from the experience still thinking that the world is beautiful.
I like characters that hope, even if they are hopeless and everyone sees their hopelessness flying out in every direction.
I like characters that starve themselves.
And gamble away the nest egg.
And send young soldiers to their deaths.
I like characters that sneak into my kitchen and eat all my food and don’t even leave me a note of thanks.
I like characters that confront injustice only to find themselves being unjust.
I like characters that hit-and-run.
I like characters that lie.
I like characters that purposefully give me the wrong change when I buy gum and when I say, Hey, I gave you a ten, you owe me another five, they say, Sorry pal, go suck a lemon.
I like characters that drive trucks and dig ditches and when they get done with their hard labors, they like to play pool and drink beer and sometimes fight another character that also drives a truck or plays pool.
I like dubious types.
I like lecherous men and loose women.
And their virtuous counterparts.
I love a thief.
The more secrets the better.
Give me your troubled.
Your unloved and lonely.
That’s who I’m looking for.