There were a couple of fascinating posts and follow-up discussions on Dear Author in the last couple of weeks. The first was a post by Robin on Loving the Unlikeable Heroine, particularly interesting to me as I love to write and read about characters who are at least potentially unlikable characters. Especially heroines (as I’ve blogged about before), I think because I love characters who are rule-breakers and heroines, at least in historical fiction, tend to face many more rules than heroes. Which leads to the follow-up post Jane wrote after Robin’s piece about whether there’s a double standard in the romance genre for what readers consider “allowable” behavior in heroines versus heroes and why.

Which led me to ponder the question of what it takes for me to find a character sympathetic (or unsympathetic) as the case may be. I just read Robert Goolrick’s fascinating A Reliable Wife and found myself empathizing with all three central characters, despite the fact that all three did things that definitely could be called morally circumspect. And yet I have a very hard time sympathizing with a character who hurts an animal. I’ve grown quite fond of Sawyer on Lost quite a bit, but I still haven’t quite got over the fact that he killed the frog in season one.

I’m not sure if my standards differ for male and female characters. My heroes tend to be less morally ambiguous than my heroines. What would I think of Charles if he was the one who had married Mélanie under false pretenses to spy on her? Of course, as Mel points out in Secrets of a Lady, Charles being Charles wouldn’t do that, but what if it was the husband who was the betrayer rather than the wife. Interesting to ponder. I think I’d still be able to sympathize with him. It’s a fascinating situation to play “what if” with.

What makes a character likable or unlikable for you? Do you think your standards differ for female or male characters? Do they differ by genre of book? How would you feel about Charles and Mel if Charles was the betrayer?

Thanks again to everyone who weighed in on the naming discussion. I think my estranged couple now have names–Cordelia & Harry Davenport. She’s Lady Cordelia, he’s a Lieutenant-Colonel. Mélanie and Charles’s alter-egoes are for the present going to continue to be Suzanne & Malcolm Rannoch, but I still open to further suggestions.

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is British ambassador to Lisbon Sir Charles Stuart’s reply to last week’s letter from Charles’s spymaster, Lord Carfax, in which he discussed Charles & Mel’s marriage.