What Makes a Character Likable?

Lately, I’ve run across way too many YA book reviews that decry the extreme unlikability of main characters. Are writers making their protagonists too unlikable? Sure, writing an engaging main character is a complex process–we like our protagonists flawed and thus more interesting, but isn’t it also important for them to be likable enough to root for through an entire novel?

With fictional characters–as with real people–“engaging” and “likable” are subjective, to be sure. In Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, for example, some readers find the protagonist Rachel so incredibly flawed that she’s just too pitiful to root for; others, like me, find her compelling and sympathetic in her way. The truth is, no characters in The Girl on the Train are heroic in a classic sense, but the story still works. That’s just good writing, so kudos to Paula Hawkins.

So…what makes a character likable? Here’s my list. Tell me if I missed anything.

What Makes a Character Likable?

1. Must feel extremely passionate about something.
2. Has at least one person she’s willing to fight for.
3. Isn’t too perfect.
4. Has a troubled life.
5. Isn’t overly whiny about her troubled life.
6. Has a special talent, skill, or exceptional personality trait.
7. Sees the world in a unique way.
8. Is aware of her own flaws and grows or changes in some way. (added by blogger eclecticscribblings)
9. BONUS: Has a sense of humor, especially about herself. (added by blogger Aedifice)

In other news, I’m falling madly in love with my latest work in progress, a contemporary YA with time travel and a ghost. Had to share. 🙂

— Eve

23 thoughts on “What Makes a Character Likable?

  1. I would add is aware of his or her own flaws and grows or changes in some way, even if the change is subtle. Great post! I’m glad you’re loving your work-in-progress. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great idea for a post! I hope you don’t mind if I use this idea for a post on my blog 🙂
    I don’t know why characters have to be even likeable in the first place; I like reading about unlikeable characters just as much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That is an interesting point. Maybe some readers don’t care if a character is likable, but shouldn’t the character at least be engaging? What makes you want to stick with a character through the end of a story?


  4. This is interesting! However for some errors reason I felt very uncomfortable reading this. I think it’s because I don’t think there should be a bullet point list of things that make a character likable. After all, we like certain people in real life for our own personal reasons and its such a subjective thing that I don’t think we can really put it into a list. Definitely one major point though I’d say that determines like-ability is how realistically a character is constructed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your honest input, Josie. As a book lover, I get how unsettling or annoying it might be for someone to try and distill the complex nature of fictional characters into a mere bulleted list. As a writer, I explore the topic to give myself a starting point for developing strong main characters.
      Believability is, I think, the most important and yet the most intangible. I’m reading a book right now that I was really looking forward to, but for some reason it just doesn’t ring all that true. I can’t put my finger on why.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know that these are always necessary (well, with writing, everything is guidelines rather than rules anyway, right?), but I find a sense of humor helps a great deal in making a character likable. Some sort of moral compass. Some sort of awkwardness (what kinds of situations are they uncomfortable in and how would they act?). Basically, be human? Not too perfect, not too apathetic, not too angsty, not too stereotypical.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think that a character doesn’t have to have a special unique skill or an unusual life, but they have to always have that one-of-a-kind realism. Even in the most boring people, you find that they are boring in their own way! We all have a lot in common with a lot of people, and it’s important to make characters recognisable in some ways, as well as different. I’ve found myself getting tired of characters written as being ‘so obviously unique and special’. You can get the feeling that they have to be THE MOST TROUBLED or the Most Special Snowflake, discovering their super-unheard-of powers, in the Worst Situation Ever, Prophesied the Most Crucial Destiny, etc. Obviously they have to be doing something interesting, but being unique and unusual is no substitute for being finely written and well observed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed, Pippa! The phenomena of the superlative is definitely growing a bit tired, especially in the fantasy genre. And for sure, crafting a well-observed character is paramount. A big question, I know, but how would you qualify “finely written?”


      • Yes, I think it’s because I read quite a lot of fantasy over the summer that I really reached the end of my tether with ‘specialness’!
        Finely written, I guess how I use the term, is the opposite of ‘roughly sketched with a broad brush’! Where you get the feeling that every aspect of the character has been deliberately considered, nothing has been left to chance, laziness or stereotype.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: When your eyes open wider to see the other bright, kind fishes swimming alongside you. #amwriting | Eve Messenger's OtherWORDly Endeavors

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