I am not a likeable person. My husband will disagree but he’s an idiot.
I’m joking. He’s very smart but he has to say that, doesn’t he? He’s my husband! And he is very likeable and even lovable. Everyone loves him. Me not so much.
Let’s check the historical documents; ie my report cards. I talk too much. I ask too many questions and speak my mind. I use far too many curse words. But I am also ambitious and driven, passionate about learning and determined to make my mark on the world. And, in the words of my year 7 report card “can be hard to handle when crossed”. What the venerable Mr MacIntosh meant by this was that I was not keen to fit in the box I had been delegated. I wanted to have a life bigger than our church school had deigned suitable for a young lady.
You do not want to see my year 8 report card. Needless to say, I was not welcome at that school for year 9.
One of the Four Agreements is Don’t Take Anything Personally. If someone doesn’t like me is it any of my business? (I don’t 100% agree with this because if everyone is telling us the same thing, they might have a point…) People have told me in the past that I can be a little opinionated and dismissive and can come across as a bit of a know-it-all. (My son calls me Janet – have you seen The Good Place on Netflix?) But I do care. Not just because I want to be liked, but because being kind and caring to those around me is actually high on my priorities list now, more than being right. I’ve changed a great deal in recent years but the fear remains. Patterns/habits of a lifetime are challenging to change.
I love that Reese Witherspoon wrote an essay in Vanity Fair about likability and I was stunned that Anne Lamott tells us (in Bird by Bird) that we should write likeable characters. When I was writing Hotel Deja vu, I found that my characters started life as 1-dimensional beasts of volcanic appetites but as I wrote, I tended to round their edges. I was afraid that people wouldn’t like them if they were, you know, real! But when they were too raw, they seemed a little unbelievable, even though I have seen real-life examples of far shittier behaviour. I tempered their temper tantrums and glossed over their petty jealousies. Until I realised that I was writing crap that no-one could get invested in. No one could root for my characters or detest them enough to relish their undoing my because they were boring.
When I start writing, I don’t plan my characters. I thought this was an awful thing until I read that Stephen King does the same. Phew! My process is, I have an idea for a story then sit down to write or at my computer. As the story unfolds the characters with foibles, their secrets and their strengths and weaknesses unfold. It makes sense that characters written in this way will all be an extension of the writer. I have given them life, as I have my son. But like my son, they tend to develop a mind of their own, even in infancy! My characters swear, pontificate and often know way more than they should about everything, but hey, it takes one to know one.