Should your character be likeable?

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Should your character be likeable?

Post by ElaineB on Mon May 20, 2013 5:17 pm

Thanks to Sterling Editing for the link to this.

Would You Want to Be Friends With Humbert Humbert?: A Forum on “Likeability”

This does still come up. It is indeed a ridiculous question. The qualities we appreciate in a character are not the same as those we would look for in a college roommate. I have written extensively about this in the past—see “Spotty-Handed Villainesses” (1993), which is to be found in “Writing With Intent,” page 125. You can get it instantly as an e-book. One quote: “Create a flawless character and you create an insufferable one.”

I myself have been idiotically told that I write “awful” books because the people in them are unpleasant. Intelligent readers do not confuse the quality of a book with the moral rectitude of the characters. For those who want goodigoodiness, there are some Victorian good-girl religious novels that would suit them fine.

Also, what is “likeable”? We love to watch bad people do awful things in fictions, though we would not like it if they did those things to us in real life. The energy that drives any fictional plot comes from the darker forces, whether they be external (opponents of the heroine or hero) or internal (components of their selves).

Do women writers get asked this more than male ones? Bet your buttons they do. The snaps and snails and puppy-dog’s tails are great for boys. The sugar and spice is still expected for girls. Up to a point.

I stand firmly with Claire Messud.
—Margaret Atwood

I think there's a difference between liking a character and wanting to be friends with them. For me, I have to like a character enough to want to keep reading. What I didn't like about Gone Girl, the current "it" book, is that I really didn't like either character. So why spend so many evenings with them? There are always characters you love to hate. And I suppose I want my protagonist to be likeable. The villain, should of course, be unlikeable. Or should she?

I would never want to be friends with Nicola Griffith's Aud, but I sincerely like her as a character. Same with Micky Knight

What about you? Readers: do the characters have to be likeable? Writers: do you think about that then when creating characters? (I have one I've changed to be more likeable because I couldn't stand to write her as evil as I originally intended.)

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Re: Should your character be likeable?

Post by Deej on Mon May 20, 2013 7:10 pm

I definitely think the s-hero's have to be likable, as in they can have flaws, but ordinary ones, not vile ones. Along these lines, I try to never make my villains all bad, because in fact NO ONE is all bad. At least I don't think so. Just my two cents.

As a reader, I want the characters to be well rounded and developed, not saints, that goes for hero's and villains.


Last edited by Deej on Tue May 21, 2013 7:05 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Should your character be likeable?

Post by Lilien on Mon May 20, 2013 9:03 pm

What does likable actually means? I found myself often liking the ''bad'' characters or completely disliking the characters that are suppose to be naturally nice and welcoming. You know: Good Guys. I never found myself wanting to be friends with any book characters, or in that mater any show, or movie character. My brain doesn't work that way. I need for character to be well developed and presented. Inside and outside. I do not like going trough book and asking WHY? I love when I know. I need to know facts, emotions, ideas, drives and needs of one character. Let's say we are talking about a female character... If she is doing something, I need to know why, what is driving her to such an action. What is behind her decisions. If the character is well written then I can develop my opinion regarding likes or dislikes. I drew a line between reality and books. In reality we can't always find situations similar or exact as ours. The reason? Cause we can't see other peoples story. We all do our laundry behind the close door. But in books you can actually see everything. Those characters are naked in front of you. Book cover is not tick enough to hide the story. So when you have someones private story laid out so openly in front of you. You begin to criticizes, to identify yourself or their story to yours. We all love to see how other people go trough same bullshit as we do. Then we don't feel so alone. Life is not a cake and even if it is, some people are diabetic, so someone will always suffer. But characters in books give a well needed escape in thinking how we are not alone. I partly agree with No One is all bad. Some people are bad until extension that for them you can safely say they don't have one good bone in their body. But! No one takes a first breath and becomes bad. There is a long life story which makes us who we are. There are million of reasons and facts which are behind our backs pushing us to do what we do. And in the story when I have a bad character I need to know WHY? So I can understand them, so I can like or dislike their choices, so I can see who they are. I hate when a writers presents a character like all ''Evil One''. Writers who do that should be writing cartoons or children stories where the world is all black and white. The more realistic characters are the more chances are I will like them, bad or good.

Bottom line is that those characters are not alive, they are product of imagination, product of desire, product of pain of a certain author or authors. And that is where I leave them when I close the book. Right between those pages where they can continue having their own story. Cause, you know. A writer can always decide and rip the page. Or an unsatisfied reader or viewer can write a bunch of more pages called fan fictions. And those characters can continue ''living'' in some other world. We sometimes or often go back to a certain book, cause we need the same feeling of seeing others go trough crap and beating it. The most selling books are always the ones with: Beginning, lot of tears, fears, crap, emotion, failures, then that one great discovery that makes us all happy, make all the bad guys disappear and then The end. People love having someone to blame for their own misery.

So my answer to question ''Should a character be likable?'' If you wanna make money with selling your books, yeah, make a good guy and a bad guy, make the reader identify themselves with the good guys, make them blame and hate the bad guys and give them a bit freedom from their own crap with happy end.

But in my honest opinion, I need for characters to be real as you can get. That way I can see reality behind me liking them or not. But even then, they will always be only imaginary bunch of letters for me and not something I can want to be friends with. Imagination tends to hurt you more than reality. But if they are strongly developed and if the story is fully written giving me angle and input in the background of decisions, choices and drives, I will see part of the author, part of who author is and how she or he is thinking and feeling. And that is person I cold actually imagine being friend with. The real person behind the ink.
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Re: Should your character be likeable?

Post by ElaineB on Mon May 20, 2013 11:07 pm

Very insightful. I agree that "bad" people aren't born that way. What makes a character interesting is what they went through to become who they are--good or bad. Characters who are all good are as boring as ones who are all bad. One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, and I have a hard time seeing people as one-dimensional. So I want to write my characters as well rounded.

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Re: Should your character be likeable?

Post by Athena on Wed May 22, 2013 3:22 pm

Not every person is always good or always evil. So if an author is capable of explaining why one person does a certain thing it would help much more to understand that character.
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