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On Unlikeable Characters and the Bitchy Bounty Hunter

Lyssa Peate, my female bounty hunter, is an interesting character. For me, having known this crumpet since I was fifteen, I know her ins and outs and motivations. It’s been interesting to watch others get to know her. But man, she’s a hard gal to love.

She’s mean, she’s angry, she’d sooner shoot herself in the foot than accept help. She walks stupidly into bad situations, blinded by her own ego and egged on by her insecurities. She’s a contradiction wrapped in snark with a creamy center of abandonment and Daddy issues.

But I never said I was writing a perfect character.

Perfect is Subjective

The thing is, there are tons of characters in literature who aren’t perfect or likable. Most of those characters happen to be male.

I’m not saying there’s overt sexism involved in the criticism (although there are a few reviews that blatantly are). True enough, some people just don’t like reading about shitty characters. And I get that. But there’s something to be said about a female character that suffers from insecurity and doubt while struggling to fight her demons and learn how to be a not-terrible human being–while also having adventures with politics and pirates and prisons and police and whatnot.

And that, to me, is the basis for the book series. How does one woman who starts off alone and somewhat miserable end up finding the balance between her career, her relationships, and her past? That was the story I wanted to tell–just in space with pirates and junk.

Spoilers ahead for the series if you haven’t read it. 

My Girl

Lyssa is very good at pushing blame on other people. She blames Dissident for keeping her on probation, even when Sage offers to give her a leg-up to prove herself. To be honest, she might’ve been a lot more successful if she’d just put aside her pride and joined his crew. But no, that would’ve been anathema.

Lyssa also has the worst combinations of her mother and father. Like her mother, she’s quick to snark at anyone who dares defy her. Also like her mother, she’s incredibly self-centered, insecure, and focused on what other people think of her.

Her father, on the other hand, was self-centered, but as it related to his work. He wasn’t above using Lyssa as a child to get where he wanted to go–although, in his mind, he was doing her a favor. Like Lyssa, it took a swift kick in the ass (the events in the prologue) to force him to realize that he was putting his daughter in incredible danger. But because he was a terrible communicator, he let her think that she’d messed up, and that haunted her for the next decade.

On top of that, she’s drawn into this world of piracy where Tauron gives her a bounty hunting password and tells her to knock herself out. Being a child whose parents were verbally abusive, she latches onto him, thinking he’ll save her from being trapped in a life where no one wants her.

Then he dies. By her own brother’s hand. And when Lyssa goes to Dissident to be granted full rights (as he’d done to Sage), he treats her like garbage, same as her mother and father.

This is the woman we meet in Double Life.

Growing a Person

Her adventures would’ve been interesting enough without all the character background, but what makes her story so much more satisfying is her slow, stilted realization that she’s not worthless, that she can choose to be a good person. For three-and-three-quarters books, she believes that she’s powerless against the Great Creator, and everything she does is predestined. And that moment of, “Wait a second…I can be better” is her finest moment.

Helping her get there is the merry band of supporting characters. Sage Teon has his own issues–the son of an abusive father who watched his own mother beaten to death, he should’ve left Lyssa behind years ago. But because she’s all that’s left of his family, he forgives her abuse toward him–until he doesn’t. His “I’ve-had-it” speech to her in Fusion is, I think, his biggest growth as a person.

Speaking of Fusion, the whole pregnancy storyline was definitely a scary one to take. Lyssa’s first reaction to being pregnant is that she wants to terminate the pregnancy. Well, her first reaction is “oh fuck.” Pregnancy is not really a topic written about in Science Fiction, especially the qualms that go with an unexpected one. There’s a few chapters where it’s unclear what direction she’s going to go in.

The reason for the story arc was that, again, Lyssa needed something BIG to force her to face her demons. Not only that, but there’s a poetic justice in her doing better for her kid than her parents did for her. You see it a bit in the last short story, how she’s making an active effort to be kinder, to be more present. She’s no longer consumed with work, either.

Happiness is Fluid

Happy endings, to me, aren’t sunshine and roses. You don’t walk off into the sunset and disappear. You live, you have ups and downs and hard times and good times. So at the end of the series, I wanted to show that things aren’t always perfect, but they are. Lyssa’s journey of becoming the woman she was always supposed to be had drawn to a close, and a new one had begun.

The best, and worst, part about publishing my own books is that I get to decide the stories I want to tell. And yeah, maybe Lyssa doesn’t sell that many because she’s a butthead. Maybe I get a few more two and three star reviews because she’s “unlikable.”

But at the end of the day, I know I’ve remained truthful to her story. And, to me, that’s something to be proud of.

Published inRazia
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