Your character does not need to be politically correct. Your character does not need to be politically correct. I hope that by repeating myself, I can begin to drill that into your mind.
Now before everyone gets ready to attack me and accuse me of aiding and abetting bigotry and discrimination, I want to make the one major point to take away from this. This. Is. Fiction. Fiction.
In a perfect world, there would be no discrimination. There would be no racism, sexism, homophobia, or other types of bigotry. People would be tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs, people wouldn’t care what happened with another person’s body, and people wouldn’t be so ready to try to dehumanize others by the color of their skin or their inability to speak the common language.
But sadly, we do not live in a perfect world, and guess what: your characters shouldn’t either. Conflict is at the center of a well thought out plot, and one of the best ways to create tension and potential conflict is by having characters who have flaws. Sometimes even your good guys can have obvious and cringe-worthy flaws, and that’s acceptable in the world of fiction.
I know it’s easy to get offended when you encounter something that you perceive as unjust or unfair. I know that getting offended is everyone’s favorite past time these days, but it’s essential to understand one thing: it’s just a story. It’s make-believe, it’s not real. And no matter how close to home it gets, it’s always just fiction.
This is especially true when creating realistic villains. They’re villains; they aren’t supposed to be nice! Do you think that if a supervillain is bent on destroying the world, they are interested in making sure they aren’t being racist? Or that they are concerned with keeping their privilege in check? Of course not. All they want is to foil the good guys and destroy the world.
Prejudice is a common and powerful theme to explore within the world of literature. As a conflict creator, it can be a powerful tool in your arsenal. Humanity is chalked full of instances of discrimination. Why not use it?
In my novel, my race of dwarves has a particular prejudice that’s been a significant aspect of their society. I’m not going to go over what it is, but it’s something that my main dwarf characters are having to face. They will encounter other dwarves who hold to that prejudice because it’s a concerning part of their society.
Another example is on Star Trek how the Ferengi regard women. Ferengi women are seen as lower than anything. They aren’t allowed to wear clothing, speak to strangers, or leave their homes. They can be charged with a crime for earning a profit. They’re even expected to chew their husband’s food for them to soften it. It’s terrible, of course. But should the creators of Star Trek be held responsible for it? I don’t think so because it’s a character flaw, and even your world-building needs to have character flaws.
Societies must have situations they need to overcome. Is our society perfect? No. But it’s a lot better than it has been in the past and it’s always evolving and changing and getting better. There are still those who want to hold back progress, and those who have skewed ideas of what progress should be like. This is just Human nature, trying to better yourself and your fellow Humans. This is often true for your non-human races as well.
It should be like this in your fictional societies too. There needs to be something to overcome, ways to progress, and challenges to undertake.
Does it make you made when you learn about societies like the Ferengi and how they treat women? It should make you mad. It’s a great way to motivate you to look around your society and see what needs to be changed and also to be grateful that you don’t have to live under those conditions. That’s what good fiction should do- evoke emotion. It should make you think about yourself and the world around you.
But it shouldn’t make you resent the story itself or to hold a grudge against the creators just because it’s offended your sensibilities. So what if the main protagonist has a problem with women or has apparent homophobic attitudes? The character should not reflect upon the author, and most authors do not hold the same sentiments as their characters. At least they shouldn’t. Some do, and that’s unfortunate, but we aren’t talking about them now, we are talking about being able to separate yourself from the story and understand that characters aren’t always meant to be likable.
A good character should provoke an emotion from the reader. Any emotion. If they piss you off and you think they are total douchebags, that’s okay. If you think they are the best thing since sliced bread and you feel you must protect this precious unicorn, that’s okay too.
I’m not saying that authors should make it a point to promote the most bigoted, misogynistic character they can come up with. There should be some balance, and these flaws should be something that the character can overcome as they progress through the story. Maybe the character has some assumptions about a particular ethnicity based on stereotypes they’ve bought into. Perhaps they meet people from that ethnicity, and through the course of the story, they begin to realize that they were wrong to make these assumptions.
By putting the object of the character’s prejudice in their path, the author show readers that their characters can evolve and progress.
So don’t worry about making your characters entirely likable. Especially if you are working with a story that has a large cast of characters, like I am, you need your characters to be different from one another. Just keep in mind how likable you want your main protagonist to be and how to separate them from the antagonists.