1. Dismas
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    Dismas Member

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    How to make a character likeable?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Dismas, May 31, 2013.

    I'm currently planning a story and I've got this character I'm really excited about... but I'm afraid the reader will hate her. My character, for instance, is a bit of loner and social-misfit, she doesn't really understand how to connect with people, though she deeply desires to do so. She is rather severe, maybe even misanthropic and holds stubbornly to a black and white morality at the beginning of the story.

    So I guess I'm just wondering, how do I make this character, or any character, likeable or at least sympathetic to the reader?
     
  2. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    Make them human so people can relate to it. It is important that you give your characters 'good' qualities and flaws. Make sure your character isn't whining and complaining the whole time since that's very annoying. Have a why for everything so the reader can understand the character (but that doesn't mean you have to give every bit of information in the beginning). And most important of all, see that your character grows during the plot. You don't want your character to be exactly the same as it was at the start of your story. Another point to keep in mind is that a good story not necessarily depends on likeable characters. The King Killer Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss are marvellous but I dislike the protagonist most of the time :) Read book and ask yourself why it is that you like a certain character and do not try to please every reader, that is simply not possible. It's not because one person dislikes your character that everyone will dislike it!
     
  3. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    It doesn't sound to me like you're writing a particularly unlikable character (just hypocritical: see underlined) unless you've neglected to mention something. As long as she doesn't angst or have an irritating back story then I wouldn't see a reason to dislike her based on what you have said.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I would say the quickest way to make her likeable is to SHOW her trying to connect with certain people, and failing miserably. Let us see how this makes her feel.

    If secondary characters find her strange, unapproachable, prickly, whatever, but we, the readers, know how hard she's trying, we will sympathise with her.

    What makes her want to connect with people? She must not hate or dislike them, or she wouldn't want to. Does she see other people, maybe having fun with close friends, and feel very left-out? Does she feel as if she's got an eye in the middle of her forehead, walks on 6 legs, or comes from the Planet Nazgor, and is still trying to learn 'our' ways?

    We'll probably need to get inside her head for all this, but I think somebody who is trying and failing at social interaction is a very easy character for a reader to like.
     
  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's funny but even when a character has lots of flaws and even acts like a jerk, the reader still wants to read about his/her exploits. Like Bateman in American Psycho. If you show the character possess human feelings, be it hatred or sorrow, doesn't have to be happy-go-lucky stuff, it's possible to relate to them, so in a way they become likable.
     
  6. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is it her who can't connect or is it the people she's trying to connect with?

    Is this like the new girl at school, a bit chubby maybe, no make-up, no designer clothes, and can't get in with the Barbie-type girls, the cheerleaders? Maybe show how bitchy they are to her as well as her going home crying into her pillow, her stuffed animals, her emo chatroom.

    Obviously we have no idea what her situation is but you get my drift...
     
  7. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    My sister and I were totally different at school, as I was popular and made friends with ease and my sister was as totally opposite as you could get. She annoyed people quickly, didn’t' make friends and was often bullied. She didn't start to get better at it till the second half of high school, but before that she was very much like your character sounds in some respects. Did i love my sister? Of course, as she had good qualities as well, and my heart bled for her when I heard her crying because her day at school had sucked so royally.

    What I mean is that unless your character is a sociopath then they are human, and that’s the key to making a character be likeable. So, you have to bare their soul a little, and show some pain or other emotion that will connect with readers own emotional centre to make them care about that person. I recently read a Brent Weeks trilogy and the primary character was an anti-social assassin, but not only was he likeable but had enough flaws, tragic background and emotion that you would find yourself on his side.
     
  8. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    The most basic thing a writer should know about a character is the character's deepest desires, and when you develop the character with that as a weapon (everything the character do should have something to do with the desire) you can make the readers connect with, relate with, like, or at least understand the char. More importantly, they will care for the character and would want to know everything that happens to the char. And that's what you should be aiming for, more than just making the char likable.

    I think you already have her core desires. Now, don't just jump into her head and "tell" her feelings, a better way is to create situations/scenes where her feelings will be "shown" to the readers through her actions and such. Some may pity her, some will identify with the char to the core, some may cheer for her just because she is sort of an underdog, basically, they know what she is fighting for and they care for her, so they would want to find out what happens to her in the chapter, and the next, and the next...
     
  9. escorial
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    escorial Member

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    Alot easier to make a child appeal more likeable then an adult..tricky one.
     
  10. pafjlh
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    pafjlh New Member

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    I think you have a good basis for your character to work from. For example why is she a loner. There has to be a reason why she has cut herself off from others yet desires to connect with people around her. Maybe someone in the past let her down. Maybe something awful happen to her to make her want to close herself off, but now she wished to connect once more. In other words the back story can be important here, it will help the reader to connect to the character, maybe understand why they have become this way. Perhaps you already have an idea in mind about her back story. Through her back story the reader will start to connect with the character. Just as suggestion of how to go about making the character sympathetic to the reader.
     
  11. PyrZern
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    PyrZern Member

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    Get the readers to feel what the character is feeling. Awkwardness, for instance. Or she does something and feels silly about it.

    And try not to force the readers to like her. Ie. Don't use narrator tell us that we should like her. (She was such an adorable teenager but people just didn't give her chances.)
     
  12. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Have you seen 'The Bridge' swedish/danish tv drama? One of the MC's had something like asbergers and had real trouble connecting with other people (even though she was a police officer). I thought at first that she would get on my nerves, but actually really liked her. Part of what worked was how she saw the world, in black and white, and questioned things. But also the relationship that she had with her police partner (who was supposedly 'normal'). Might be worth looking at it and seeing how the writers achieve this.

    On the book front 'The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time' is another example of someone who can't connect with others. Have a look and see how the author makes the MC likeable.
     
  13. Dismas
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    Dismas Member

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    Thanks for the replies everyone!

    Its not so much the social trouble that I see being the problem so much as the black-and-white morality and the fact that she can be cold and prickly. A major part of her character at the beginning is that she is quick to anger and willing to lash out violently at those she believes have done wrong. To her poor and desperate thief trying to fend for his family is just as bad as any other thief.
     
  14. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Everyone liked Lisbeth Salander, and she wasn't Miss Congeniality.

    lisbeth_salander-noomi-rapace-mohawk.jpg

    People love the underdog.

    Let the readers see her being excluded or being treated unfairly and show how hard she tries And make sure you write her parts with understanding and compassion and there you go.
    Likable character.
     
  15. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    "In response to the common criticism that Holden Caulfield, the narrator of 'The Catcher In The Rye', is unlikeable, I regret to inform you that you are also unlikeable. So am I. There's this, like, weird but pervasive feeling in the world of contemporary coming-of-age fiction that characters ought to be, like, the person you wanna be or the person you wanna be with and I'm happy to acknowledge that Holden Caulfield is not the guy you wanna be or the guy you wanna be with. He's not Edward Cullen. But he is the guy you secretly know yourself to be, which I would argue is, in the end, much more interesting." - John Green

    Even if your characters aren't necessarily likeable, or even directly relatable, making them inherently human will provide the access for the audience into understanding them. Some more specific advice on how to make a character human is much of what goes into characterisation—flaws, virtues, quirks, habitual actions, speech patterns, wants, needs, unique insights and contradictions.
     
  16. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    A character being likable isn't as important as them being relatable. I think many people would relate just fine. Make the character like a real person with feelings and dimension and you'll do just fine. :)
     
  17. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    The answer is simply found within yourself.. Think of friends or people who have the same traits of your character, people you like... then ask yourself the obvious question, "Why do I like them?" AS someone already mentioned, the sympathy stems from relatable emotions excited in your reader. People like to experience things, no matter what they are, as long as reality is veiled and verisimilitude is achieved, and that is done by imitating life as accurately as possible and through relation. Focus not so much on pity or sympathy, exactly, because those are emotions where the reader has not fully reached a state that 'likes' the character. They simply just feel sorry or care about the character, in the same way some can, disregarding for the moment the semantics of the subject, sympathize with sociopaths, or murders, or the mentally ill, or whatever variable you could insert here that has a negative energy or connotation, yet a variable one can still pity, or focus sympathy toward. "Liking" someone is an investment, it's more than compassion and pity, it's full immersion, and the reader stands or falls on every action your character does, or doesn't. That's established when you present a trait that is real and recognized by your reader, because he/she has them, too.
     
  18. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    sounds like you are kind of making a "chloe" character. give the audience a reason she is the way she is. Something that says "you might be this way if it happened to you too" a hint of innocence and you are on your way.
     
  19. timwilson
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    timwilson New Member

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    You need to make sure she has some redeeming features. Yes, this character might not be someone that you would have round for tea, but is there something about them that is endearing?

    The classic case for me is Sheldon Cooper from the TV show Big Bang Theory. When I watched snippets, I thought he was the most annoying character I'd ever met. And he is. He is slightly autistic and very socially awkward. Yet watch the show enough and you will find that almost everyone ends up having Sheldon as a favourite character. Why?

    Because he does have some redeeming features. He can be very loving, in his own awkward way. He is hilariously funny. He has a childlike innocence. All these things endear him to us, despite him having some major character flaws.

    Think about what redeeming features your character could have, despite their problems. What good features could she have that wouldn't take away from who she is? Could we see her early on doing something that will set us up for the whole story?
     
  20. anna231
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    anna231 New Member

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    You can add some funny , unique and innocent characteristics in the person to make it different and likeable
     
  21. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    That very similar to Javert from Les Miserables, only he was an anti-hero, couldn't get over himself and atoned through self-sacrifice. Your girl might be more reasonable and change her outlook instead.
     
  22. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    This is essentially a balancing act. You have to provide enough good, redeemable qualities to counterbalance her caustic ones. However, if done right, the black-and-white morality and violent aversion to wrongdoing could in themselves be endearing qualities. There are people like that in the real world and they are sometimes lauded for those qualities. Black-and-white morality means an ability to make split-decisions, even in the worst of situations. This is a quality many people admire and wish for themselves in that perfect world scenario but they generally understand that the world is made up of grays and not black and white. You'll also need to acknowledge that your character's behavior isn't the best in some way. That lets your readers know you understand the presented flaws and included them intentionally. With that comes hope that your character will evolve into something more forgiving (assuming you're going that route :)).

    Here's hoping that was coherent. Sleep and I haven't been on good terms lately.
     
  23. Vince524
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    Vince524 Member

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    Sometimes, people really like the characters that are like that. See Monk or Sheldon Cooper. Just find someway to let the reader hear their voice and how they'd like to be seen.
     
  24. New Konoiche
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    New Konoiche Member

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    From the description you gave, I already rather like your character. I have one who is pretty similar, actually.

    I will say, however, that the most important aspect that makes a character rootable/likable (IMO) is accountability. Does she ever get called out on her attitude, causing her to change the way she treats people? I know that in real life, people don't always have to answer for their bad behavior (and, yes, this happens in fiction as well - I believe TV Tropes refers to it as "Karma Houdini"), but I like to see characters learn from their actions and deal with the consequences. Granted, it doesn't have to be completely over-the-top (like everyone at school hating/shunning her), but being called out on negative traits goes a long way in making a character's flaws more palatable.
     
  25. EmmaWrite
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    EmmaWrite Member

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    I would develop her relationships more, if not with friends, then with family. It's hard to hate someone if you see how they can love and care about another person.
     

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