I have a brief dilemma on Friday night while working on The Last Song. I did not know, SPOILERS if my main character should cheat on his wife SPOILERS.
Then I thought about it. This guy is a recovered heroin addict rock star in Detroit. I've painted him as rough around the edges, he uses foul language, he drinks too much, before and after the heroin. Of course, in that very specific instance, he would. Why did I even have to ask myself?
Of course, we worry about having a sympathetic main character. We want people to like him or her. I'd written once before, though, about how I don't think a character needs necessarily to be likeable. There are main characters in books I would not care to meet in person and be friends with, like the narrator from Rebecca, or from Fight Club. These characters can be sympathetic, but do I personally like them? Not in a "let's be friends" kind of way.
I ran into this recently when I read Trickster, by Jeff Somers. The narrator, on occasion, would look at an action he and his comrades performed, or a decision they made, and he would reiterate "We were not nice people." (maybe it was "we were not good people"? I could be wrong. Either way.) I could sense his regret in this. Also the necessity in the non-niceness (or goodness) of their actions. This character had a specific morality to which he clung. This character had a mission that he ended up carrying out to the best of his ability. Did he mean to be "nice" or "good" to do so? Well, not "good" in the sense of "out of the goodness of his heart", but he did need to be good at what he was doing.
Not all characters are likeable. Not everybody is going to do Nice Things™ every time, unless you're Beth from Little Women, and even Beth, I feel, was written that way for a reason. And SPOILERS I think Beth dies for just that reason. SPOILERS
I think this can be a thing that holds us back, the double whammy of "will they like me" and "will they like my characters". Characters must be interesting, I feel. And characters must be true to themselves as they are written. So yeah. My main character has done Bad Things™. He isn't proud, necessarily. He isn't guilty, necessarily. It is what it is. And I need to be okay with that.