What Makes a Character Worth Liking?

I’ve just started corresponding with my #LitChat friend @Mamafog (also known as Karen) about what makes a fictional character likable. In particular, she asks what makes a character likable for me?

As seen previously in this space, I’ve been giving my reading some thought, finding more and more of the novels recommended to me by others as not enjoyable or just okay. Where I used to devour anything readable – including the backs of cereal boxes when I was out of books – I now have to make time to read, so naturally resent spending time on books I don’t like. And, generally speaking, I don’t like books where I don’t like the main characters.

What Makes a Character Worth Liking?

  • I guess, first of all, I have to be able to see myself, at least a little, in him or her. Someone completely different will make it hard for me to identify with them as they struggle with their challenges. This isn’t usually a problem, since all of us share some traits.
  • S/he has to have a decent code of ethics at core. Just the basics – not killing people for fun or wanting to have ultimate power, that kind of thing.
  • S/he has to be self-aware. There’s no point in seeing how a character grows if s/he remains blissfully ignorant of the changes s/he’s gone through.
  • I like a sense of humour. It can be dark, sarcastic, self-deprecating, or just wacky. Humour helps us recognize ourselves and frame a situation. What makes you laugh helps define you. And if you have no sense of humour, that might be funny in itself.
  • With secondary characters, I prefer they not be there just to serve as cannon fodder or to scream on cue. Even if they won’t be around long enough for me to learn much about them, I like it when I feel they are as much people as the main characters.

That’s the short list for me. I’m sure that continuing to think about it will bring other things to light, like why some books I enjoyed even though I didn’t like the characters. And what part narrative plays in helping me decide whether a book and its characters are good or not*.

Got your own list  of what makes you like a character or not?  Let’s talk about it.

* ‘Good’ being a term relative to our individual interpretations, of course.

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5 thoughts on “What Makes a Character Worth Liking?

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your list. It’s a short list, but it’s exactly what I think characters should be too. Everyone needs to express why they love a character and having those traits makes it easy for them to relate to and think about.

    But then, I guess you have to watch out for the cliches. But in saying that, cliches are cliches because people like that sort of thing and they’re popular.

    I think I’m going round in circles with this comment. O_O

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    • I think that’s part of the challenge of writing – knowing what we like and working to avoid falling into the trap of using a cliche or an archetype or a trope as a shortcut to our readers. This is why some writers seem to write the same story over and over again with different names and localities. Is it laziness, a desire to keep to a formula that your audience has found pleasing, or an inability to move beyond what you’ve already produced? More interesting questions, thanks.

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  2. I was confused at having a problem caring about one of the characters in the novel I’m writing. After a bit of thought I realised that she had no real, true, goals in life. I think a character needs to be ‘going somewhere’ even if they don’t make it. Make any sense?

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    • Absolutely. Without a goal, there’s no conflict because there’s no opposition. A character without a goal is someone we can’t identify with, cheer on, support. I think that, to seem real, even supporting characters should have a goal, even if that goal is just to deliver a pizza to the protagonist.

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