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Likeable characters - are they necessary?

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Offline MoleThrower
01 Feb 2016, 02:40 PM | Post: #21

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RE: Likeable characters - are they necessary?

A lot of people seem to hate one of my main characters, largely because she's always angry. I didn't expect this reaction, as I thought her anger was fairly justified, but now I've sort of made my peace with it. I'd be more worried if readers thought she didn't seem like a real person, but from the feedback I've had she does seem like a real person - just a person who happens to really wind them up. As far as I can tell this doesn't ruin their enjoyment of the book, maybe because there are always other characters around to argue with her on the reader's behalf.

Personally I don't often think about whether I "like" a fictional character. When I'm reading my brain is in a different mode, so even people I would go out of my way to avoid in real life can be interesting or charming. The only characters who tend to irritate me are perfect ones whose flaws aren't really flaws at all - e.g. they're too headstrong or they care too much.
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Offline Andy Barrett Reading Void
01 Feb 2016, 10:15 PM | Post: #22

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RE: Likeable characters - are they necessary?

(01 Feb 2016 08:44 AM)Kath Middleton Wrote: Wrote:  I've been giving it a lot of thought, and I think what I really like are interesting characters. Andy Barrett's Eddie Collins isn't all that nice. He's actually rather revolting but he cares about people. He's funny, sarcastic, very good at his job so you let him off his stubbornness, for getting rascally drunk and for not knowing what's in his own best interests. Much better than a goody-goody or a black-hearted villain. He's more like us.
Thanks, Kath!

Is it important to have likeable characters?


But I feel it's important that the reader has empathy with them - certainly with the protagonist. My current protagonist, Eddie Collins, is a miserable git - he's often rude, can be violent, and goes out of his way to avoid people. If he can't avoid them, he's sarcastic towards them. But he has, I hope, redeeming features. He's true to himself at any cost (how many of us wish we could be?), he's loyal to family and to his belief that justice (natural justice) is always right - even if it means breaking the law. He's sensitive too. Honestly!

All these facets make him more real, and because he has so many facets, more people can empathise with him. Well, that's the aim anyway. Truly angelic protagonists make me nauseous, and I find myself waiting for the time when they pull the legs off a spider or kick a puppy.

And the baddie. How often have you seen the baddie in a story being bad for the sake of it.? If you do, they're cardboard characters worthy of derision. They don't think they're bad, they're working towards a goal like the rest of us. They may have different standards, and use alternative methods than the rest of us would, but ultimately, they should be other side of the protagonist's coin.
Offline nigel p bird Reading
06 Feb 2016, 11:47 AM | Post: #23

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RE: Likeable characters - are they necessary?

It's an interesting thread, this. I think that it's difficult to engage with a story where the protagonist has no redeeming qualities, but that doesn't mean they have to be likeable in an obvious way. It's also handy if you can root for that person, even though they appear doomed. I read a lot of noir and that means the characters are generally broken and are heading for a fall - the fact that an author can engage me emotionally with someone I wouldn't normally want to be associated with is important to me here and I'm hoping for the best even though the worst has to be expected.
I also recall a story in the third book in my Southsiders series being put through the mincer because there was no one to like. The explanation of why it didn't work as it was made a lot of sense. It took a good deal of effort and creative thinking to alter the situation and set-up so that the reader's perception would be different, though the character didn't have to change much in order to achieve that (if I achieved it - I've no idea when that book will arrive and won't know until then).


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Offline davidwailing Reading
12 Mar 2016, 08:51 AM | Post: #24


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RE: Likeable characters - are they necessary?

I'm bumping this thread because it's had some detailed and fascinating responses from people, and I want to encourage more!

For those who haven't posted yet (or those who have with further thoughts), the question is: how important is it to have likeable characters in fiction?
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Offline cecilia_writer Reading Murder by the Glass by Lynda Wilcox
12 Mar 2016, 11:21 AM | Post: #25

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RE: Likeable characters - are they necessary?

I think the main thing for me when reading is that characters should have some sort of hidden depths that are uncovered (if that's the right word) as the story goes along. In some cases that may make them less likeable, but that's ok as long as they don't do something unforgiveable (in the reader's opinion, that is - everyone will have their own idea of what is and isn't forgiveable).
I laughed when I read Alex's example above (he is MoleThrower, by the way), as I had often thought some aspects of the character he mentions were based on me in some way, particularly the anger! Certainly I could identify with her when I read the book, and I didn't find her unlikeable. Sometimes anger or another unlikeable trait is justified by events in the plot.

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