I read in multiple genres, and I like reading stories that include characters who I dislike, or even hate. In a contemporary Christian Romance (CCR) I’m okay with disliking characters as long as they aren’t the hero or heroine. I don’t want to be stuck in an unlikeable character’s point of view for long periods of time, and hating every moment in their headspace. Those are the CCR books I’ll DNF (did not finish).
Sometimes the characters I love to hate will exhibit narcissistic traits in the story. These types of characters, if well written, can feel like real people. I’ll recognise their toxic behavior patterns and expect them to cause problems in the story.
People with narcissistic traits can be attracted to religious organizations for a range of reasons. The defined rules of religious moral behavior can give them leverage to control and manipulate others. Not that they actually follow the rules themselves unless it’s convenient. They often believe they’re superior and the rules don’t apply to them.
Characters with narcissistic traits like mayhem and drama. They delight in creating trouble and chaos for the main characters in the story who may, or may not, be aware of their true nature. These characters are phonys who will act nice and sweet and say all the right things to get what they want. They can also be passive aggressive and nasty if their inappropriate behavior is challenged.
I thankfully don’t often see these types of people in main character roles in CCR books. Being in their point of view is revealing, and disturbing, because I’m gaining an insider look into what these characters are really thinking and feeling. I want to believe the hero and heroine in a romance story are worthy of each other. I want to cheer for them and believe that a happily-ever-after in a God-centered marriage is possible and realistic.
In other genres, these types of characters can make for great villains. In soap operas, they’re the characters who connive, manipulate, and behave in extreme ways to get what they want. They often drive the conflict in the storylines and hook the viewers who can’t wait to see what crazy stunt they’ll pull next. One reason I struggle watching reality tv dating shows is I don’t like seeing people in supposedly real life situations being portrayed as having narcissistic traits.
In real life, people with narcissistic tendencies are horrible to be around. They are typically the people who are always right, can never genuinely apologize for anything, and often default to gaslighting to get out of sticky situations. They thrive on creating drama and strife that’s never their fault. Their extreme selfishness, which we often don’t see when we first meet them because they fool us with their phony ‘nice person’ act, is psychologically damaging for their victims, and it sadly keeps psychologists and therapists in business.
I’m going to let you in on a secret from the Trinity Lakes Romance series that’s not a spoiler if you read the book description. Kyla, a side character in Meredith Resce’s The Ocean Between Us, has narcissistic traits.
Kyla is mentioned in my book, Never Find Another You. My characters have mixed opinions on Kyla. Hannah, my heroine, has only ever seen the nice side of Kyla. But her friend’s Tabby (heroine in Iola Goulton’s debut book, Always By My Side) and Leah (heroine in I’ll Always Choose You by Lisa Renee) have seen a different side of Kyla.
At the start of The Ocean Between Us, Kyla is newly engaged to Caleb. Here’s the book description for The Ocean Between Us (Trinity Lakes Romance, Book 2):
Alanah, has set off on a trip of a lifetime.
Her best friend from high school, Sasha Kennedy, has invited her to Trinity Lakes, Washington State, to be part of her wedding party.
South Australia to Trinity Lakes is literally the other side of the world, so Alanah has a full schedule of adventure planned while she’s away. A summer camp counsellor; a trip to Canada; Sight-seeing in New York and Boston; and avoiding Sasha’s twin-brother, Caleb.
But a silly accident puts Sasha out of commission for all the planned adventures, and Caleb is sent to retrieve his former high school sweetheart from the airport. Eleven years should be enough time to have cooled the love Alanah and Caleb once shared. Should be, but apparently not. This is not a great thing to acknowledge considering Caleb has just announced his engagement to someone else.
Six months of avoiding Caleb—worse—avoiding feelings about Caleb—is going to be a long time.
Last weekend we recorded a batch of StoryChats @ InspyRomance episodes, including a spotlight episode with Nicole Deese chatting about her April release, The Words We Lost. Nicole has a fabulous side character, SaBrina, who is Ingrid’s boss, and a truly awful person who is mean to Ingrid. It was satisfying to see SaBrina reap the consequences of her behavior during the story.
What are your thoughts on unlikeable characters in CCR? Can you think of any side characters who you disliked? Did they reap the consequences of their actions by the end of the story (or series)?
I’m giving away a $10 Amazon US gift card (or $15 Australian dollars gift card from Amazon AU store) to a reader who comments on this post. The giveaway will close on March 16, and the winner announced in the Sunday Edition.