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  1. Ella Frank
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    Ella Frank Member

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    Making a character likable...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Ella Frank, Aug 2, 2011.

    Hi all :)

    I am curious as to what makes an unlikable character likable in the end? I have a story I am working on and my leading lady is not very pleasant in the begining due to circumstances from her past.

    She is rude, sarcastic, self depricating and cold but you are given glimpses as to why she is this way and she is aware of her own abomonial behavior. Through the book though she is changing due to people that she meets and essentially lets into her heart.

    What do you think it takes to make an unlikable character likable?? And what is an example in a story you have read of a character you didn't start out really liking but ended up being a number one fan by the end of the book?

    Thanks

    Ella
    xx
     
  2. Writing in the Mist
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    Writing in the Mist Member

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    This example isn't from a book, but it might help. In Falling Skies [TV show - tnt.tv] one of the characters (Pope) is introduced as a violent thug, but as the show progresses he becomes one of my favorites. I've thought about it, and there seem to be two things that make him likeable: (1) his casual/humorous attitude toward the current problem and (2) his eagerness to fight skitters [a type of alien - everyone's common enemy in the show]. The last transcends all his differences with people and puts their relationships on a plane where he is exceptional at what they all admire and approve of.

    So basically one of the character's fundamental traits has to be something that ties them all together. In your case you could have your character occasionally (momentarily) overcome her issues and let the reader/other characters glimpse something fundamentally good the reader can connect with and relate to (honor, love, courage, aspiration, etc.). There are other ways you could do it, but this is the one that comes to mind.

    Hope this helps some,

    ~ Mist
     
  3. proserpine
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    proserpine Member

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    This is not a very literary answer, but the first theoretically unlikable character that people like that I thought of is Dr. Gregory House on the tv show "House". He is a cranky, drug-dependent man who insults and uses everyone around him, and uses his patients like science experiements.

    However, he is also very likable because he is funny. We understand why he is so angry and cranky (constant pain and disability). His lack of bedside manner is tolerated because he is an excellent doctor that almost always saves his patients' lives.

    Also, we are given glimpses into his personal life, enough to know that he does care about others, even if his day-to-day life belies that.

    My advice would be to make sure your character cares about someone or something, and give the audience a reason to care about her.

    Good luck with your writing.
     
  4. Ella Frank
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    Ella Frank Member

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    Thank you both for your replies! You know I love House, and he is a very unlikable character I agree. I have not seen the new tnt show but I will have to check it out. I do believe that it is important to make the lead have some redeeming qualities, something about her that endears her to you. Thank you again for your input and I will be going over my begining to make sure we have a reason to like her, because after all I know how it will end but others dont and need to see her goodness through all the snide. :)
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Watch this film called The Maid. It's a very obscure film and the whole thing is in Spanish. I watched it about 2 days ago - excellent film and does exactly what you're trying to do.

    The maid starts off as absolutely miserable - she clearly has problems in her past and her family. The film opens to her birthday party - the family she works for is very kind to her and gives her presents etc, and she doesn't even smile and basically dumps her gifts onto the floor like it's trash. Over the course of the film, she becomes more and more horrible. She deliberately hurts people, bullies people and then hide behind the protection of the mother who employed her. She chases away every maid the mother tried to bring in to help her.

    And then a maid comes in and she reacts in a completely different way to all the other maids and manages to befriend this woman. The MC becomes happier, becomes livelier, and actually becomes very kind towards this friend - her only friend.

    In the end, you can tell the MC has changed for the better.

    And basically at the beginning of the film, I HATED her guts. Seriously I wanted her to die. And by the end I was glad that she was happy and that she's changed - I actually grew to like her. Somehow the film made you hate her and pity her at the same time, and you see that there's a reason why she's the way that she is (even though the film never actually tells you why). I think that's very important.

    So yeh, watch that film :)
     
  6. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know it's weird that no one uses books as examples, and I'm a bit embarrased to use two movie characters for my own examples. :redface: But even so, these are some of my favorite characters of all time.

    First, let's go with a certain Han Solo (from Star Wars, in case you somehow don't know.) :p When he shows up, he's an arrogant, selfish jerk, and he doesn't really do much to change that opinion through all three movies. Sure he helps out when he's caught up in the problems, but he was ready to leave at any time once he got the chance. So what makes him likeable? I don't know, actually. Maybe it's the charm. Maybe it's his charisma. Or the humor. Maybe it's simply that even though he had the chance to leave many times, he stayed through the whole thing. In short, he became more human.

    Then there's Indiana Jones. On one hand, he's as arrogant and selfish as Han Solo, and it should be easy to hate him. But like Han Solo, Indy has a lot of charisma and charm, and it's very hard not to like him because of that. He has a lot of flaws, yes, but... he's Indy, so it's ok. :redface:

    The point is both of these characters have a lot of flaws, and in many ways it shouldn't be possible to like them. They are arrogant, selfish jerks I wouldn't trust at all, but they also show a very human side of themselves when they need to and are very down to earth. Both proves many times that while they seem like they care about no one but themselves and all that, they can both be trusted. They are very full of themselves, but they have flaws too. They are both shaped by their surroundings and lives, and they are both just trying to do the right thing and have som fun doing it.

    People like James Bond, Lara Croft and countless others are in many ways similar to to Han Solo and Indy, but they are often too perfect for their own good. It's very hard to really like someone who doesn't have flaws. Ironically, you need to have flaws to be perfect. ;)
     
  7. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Some elaboration on House - he's so lovable because he's a hero to the working class. He can insult his clients and muck about all day because he's invalueable.

    House is who everyone wants to be. Free of any accountability and allowed to well, please himself, all day.
     
  8. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    I haven't watched House, but from your description, I don't think I would like him much at all. He sounds like a selfish jerk. Sure he's a good doctor, but that doesn't automatically make him likeable. Insulting people for fun as a joke is one thing, but insulting them for real? Not exactly my kind of hero. ;)
     
  9. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Get a service job as a cashier, waiter, or courtesy clerk. You'll wish you could cuss every customer out of the store.
    That's hyperbole, of course.

    Plus he is hilarious as a satiric character.
     
  10. Ella Frank
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    Ella Frank Member

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    Are we a bit of a Harrison Ford fan???? :) lol! These are both great examples. I know it is strange no one is using books as examples but it doesn't matter. In the end these are all characters that are written onto paper. So in a sense the same thing. Thanks for your input and your right Hans solo was a totally arrogant jerk at the begining.
     
  11. Ella Frank
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    Ella Frank Member

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    Oh I have to agree with this 150%. Both my husband and myself are in the medical field and deal with other doctors and pt's and he says and thinks exactly what I would want to say half the time. House is a hero in the weirdest way, he is a complete basket case and yet you root for him the whole time, not to mention most of his dialouge makes me do this :eek: lol
     
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you wanted a literary character, let's see...

    Maybe the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child? He's utterly arrogant and plays only by his own rules and is a social recluse and outcast and basically you love him lol.

    Try Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. She's another outcast, quite happily ignores people and even fight them, resorts to violence when the problem won't go away, never tells anyone about her private life, is legally declared incompetent, is a genius hacker and couldn't care less about the law and finds it amusing to dig into people's dirty secrets. And she's utterly fascinating and very likeable.

    Read Patrick Suskind's Perfume. The MC is a murderer and throughout the book, Suskind describes him as non-human, monstrous, abnormal, utterly repulsive in every way, selfish, obsessive, narcissistic, and of course, he murders virgins for their perfume. Completely insane guy who lives like the devil's in him. And he was one of the most interesting MCs I've ever read about - you're torn between fascination and repulsion throughout the book but you just can't seem to put it down.

    There, 3 literary examples :)

    Check that, here's a 4th - how about Severus Snape from Harry Potter? Snape was this half-villain who you just weren't sure about throughout the whole thing and you're torn between hating him, feeling sorry for him and completely admiring him, and by the end, he is redeemed as a hero too. I found him a very interesting character - the most interesting of all of them actually.
     
  13. Ice Queen
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    Ice Queen Senior Member

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    Another example from a book: Jaime Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire.

    At first I seriously wanted someone to cut his head off or something. He was a narcissistic prick who shoved a helpless child out of a window. He acts like a douche, we already know he's an oathbreaker and a Kingslayer (murdering someone he swore to protect) - oh, and he's a pretty sexist guy who has an incestual relationship with his own twin sister.

    So yeah. Hated this guy. Then, when I got to the third book in the series, the story is told partly from his POV- so we actually get to know more about him. He does terrible things, but for love. The king he murdered was a madman who killed innocent people before Jaime's eyes; we even get to see that; though he's sexist he can actually care about other people.

    So at this point, I sort of like him for his delightful bastard-ness, respect his resilience and drive, and grow fond of him because he is actually kinder than I thought :B
     

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