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.