Celebrating Romance 2018 : Unlikable Characters deserve a HEA too by Brookyln Wallace

Posted May 20, 2018 by Nix in Celebrating Romance 2018 / 1 Comment


Hi! I’m messy.

I don’t mean messy in the shit-stirring, Real Housewives sense. I mean messy in the “Oh, bless her heart” kind of way. I’m flaky, and awkward, and sometimes you have to remind me at least twice to do things before I actually do it, and even then it’s not a sure thing. A lot of that stems from my anxiety and depression, but some of it is just me being a disaster human.

On my first date with my girlfriend I let her know about my disaster humanness. I had never been on a date before. It seemed necessary to preface my whole… thing. A warning of sorts, letting her know that romancing me, like being my friend, would require a little finessing. She, in turn, gleefully told me about her own state of being a disaster human. It was charming and exciting and made us feel all the more connected to one another.

Thinking back on it I’m a little embarrassed to have thought I wasn’t built for love. There are plenty of rom-coms where the crabby, difficult MC finds love without even looking for it. If Jack Nicholson in As Good As it Gets could land a babe like Helen Hunt while being painfully himself, I should be able to as well, right? And he didn’t even have to use OKCupid.

Then I realized part of the reason I felt that way was because I’d seen so few queer romances with a legitimately messy MC. Not “already married” or “oops, my religion” messy, but messy like me.

I’ve read 1-star reviews of queer romance novels that cite the main character’s being “unlikable” for the reader’s inability to enjoy it. They’ll often cite the character’s flakiness, or their pettiness, or their inability to communicate. I’ve done the same thing. I mean, geez, those traits are annoying and frustrating enough without having to deal with them in the middle of your queer pretend-dating romance. But when I stop to think about I realize I’m being more than a little hypocritical. That flaky, emotional mess who spent the last three pages moping? That’s me.

Don’t get me wrong, reading about those characters can be exhausting, but what is it about romance that draws us in the first place? There’s something infinitely pleasing about difficult people finding love. KJ Charles recently wrote a blog post following the release of her queer retelling of The Prince of Zenda titled The Henchman of Zenda—which features two messy MCs falling in love—that the one thing that defines the romance genre is hope:

What romance novels specifically offer us is hope. Hope that two people can come together and be better happier humans as a result. Hope that marginalised or disregarded or unhappy people can find love and joy in a hard world; hope that however flawed you are, however scared, however much you feel like a piece of the jigsaw that doesn’t fit, there is a place and a person for whom you are just right; hope for the future.

I recently talked with Austin Chant and Amanda Jean over at Hopeless Romantics about the importance of having messy characters in romance. There is a tendency, especially when writing marginalized characters, to make them #soft (intentional #hashtag) cupcakes.

I get where this motivation comes from. So often in the books and media we consume marginalized people are vilified—when they’re not outright erased, that is. We all know the old Depraved Bisexual and Psycho Lesbian tropes. It’s frustrating to see yourself presented as a boogeyman for white cishet folks’ entertainment. When you’re writing your own romance you have the power to create that coffee shop meet cute between two (or three!) totally-not-psycho lesbians. In fact, you might even feel obligated to.This goes double when you’re writing a character that is part of a marginalized identity you yourself are not a part of. No one wants to trip into a negative stereotype about a group that already deals with such blatant discrimination.

But what about us disaster gays? Those of us whose messiness has nothing to do with how we identify, but is a part of us as people anyway? One of the best things about romance is that everyone, no matter what, can find their happily ever after. Or, at least, their happy for now.

Bad doesn’t always mean interesting, and interesting doesn’t always mean good. Having an unlikable MC doesn’t necessarily make them interesting. Sometimes those guys are just dicks, and it’s totally okay to root against them. But I would like romance to open up its heart to marginalized characters who are also messy. To write about finding love for the serial miscommunicators and the petulant self-sabotagers. They’re not easy, and they can be annoying, but they are also realistic and deserving of love.

Because everyone deserves a happy ever after.


Brooklyn Wallace was born in a tiny town of less than 1,000 people in the backwoods of Texas. Her anxiety (affectionately dubbed ‘painful shyness’ by her mother) inhibited her ability to connect with her peers early on, and the internet became her refuge. At twelve she read Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls series, and knew that writing was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. The majority of her teen years were spent writing terrible erotic Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfiction, raiding her local library’s YA section, and avoiding human interaction.

Now a starving graduate student in North Texas writing slightly better erotic Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfiction, Brooklyn is active in fandom, sci-fi and anime conventions, and the queer romance community.  She is an independent researcher of male interpersonal relationships and queer representation, and presents her findings at various conventions across the States.

An anxious perpetual sleeper with a penchant for self-deprecating humor, Brooklyn has a soft spot for writing comedies, forbidden love, and nerdy queers. When not writing, she enjoys touring various anime conventions, reading and writing fanfiction, yelling about sports, and watching TV shows religiously.

Brooklyn had her literary debut with the 80s movies reference-filled sci-fi comedy TO TERMINATOR, WITH LOVE under the pseudonym Wes Kennedy. She hopes to write more nerdy, QPOC-lead fiction throughout her career.


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One response to “Celebrating Romance 2018 : Unlikable Characters deserve a HEA too by Brookyln Wallace

  1. Amy R

    This post makes me think of Dmitri from Archangel’s Blade by Nalini Singh. I disliked him in the first 3 books of the series but went ahead and read his book and absolutely loved it and was so happy he got his HEA.

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