After getting frustrated by media stereotyping and belittling of female anger, I’m currently creating a female protagonist with anger as a deep motivating factor. Her arc centers on learning to harness her anger positively. The emphasis is very much on the management part rather than on the anger part. She has damn good reasons to be angry (even if I haven’t figured out what they are yet…) and I want to show that focused anger is a useful motivating force for change.
However, I’m concerned by how often angry characters are held up as unlikeable, e.g. Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix. If a character is going to break out of destructive/self-destructive cycles of behavior, they have to behave destructively first. Do you have any advice to avoid angry characters coming across as unlikeable/unsympathetic?
That’s a fantastic question. She will probably be likable if the audience can share that anger. That relies on what is making her angry, how well you show what is making her angry, and whether the audience has the experience necessary to understand why it’s so infuriating. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend my post on melodrama, which describes the mechanics of giving your character strong feelings. It discusses the Order of the Phoenix.
If your audience experiences her anger with her, they will sympathize with some level of acting out – particularly if that acting out only hurts her and/or characters they don’t like. Even so, the amount she acts out has to feel proportional to the level of justification for being angry.
You mentioned she has an arc about learning how to harness her anger positively. To show that the way she handles anger is a problem initially, it’ll be easier to focus on whether or not her choices get results and help her achieve her goals, or if they are counterproductive. If you want your audience to recognize that she’s doing the wrong thing just by what she’s doing and not by the results it gets, you’re more likely to end up with an unlikable character.
Let me expand on “whether the audience has the experience necessary to understand why it’s so infuriating.” If you want to make real-world commentary, then you may need to strike a balance between getting all of your audience on board with her anger and having the source of her anger be something that women in the real world are blamed for being angry about. The problem is that if an audience member doesn’t properly recognize the stimulus as something worth being angry about in the real world, there’s a good chance they won’t in the story either. For instance, unfortunately some people will dismiss sexual harassment as harmless jokes. In that case, you can choose to focus on the smaller audience that understands or you can go with something anger-inducing to a broader audience of people.
Best wishes for your story!