1. lvlr
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    lvlr Member

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    Movie-Specific : How the Hell do you make a character likable?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by lvlr, Nov 10, 2011.

    Okay, I want to make this an interesting discussion:

    How do you make a character likable or interesting...
    Most textbook hacks just say make him 'save a cat' and/or give him a back story.

    Personal I think that's just textbook shit.
    Mel Gibson, in Payback, killed a lot more than just a cat and I loved that guy.
    Keanu Reeves, in the Matrix, had no back story and I found him fascinating.
    For Romantic Comedy/Dramas, Hugh Grant, Notting Hall, also had no back story; and he's my favorite romance character.

    So what makes a character likable?
    I lean toward saying it's that first three minutes of story... Are his actions interesting or strong in those first three minutes? But at least for me... I don't give a story a half hour if I'm not liking the character in 3 minutes I quit. I have NetFlix, I've got access to hundreds of other movies!

    So what works for you all?
     
  2. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Consistency of character, as well as virtues and vices. Every now and then, a glimpse into the mind of a character helps one understand and develop a care for a character.

    Applejack is probably one of my favorite characters, ever.
    Virtues: Honest, patient, willing to help others in whatever way - support, emotional, physical, often first to be empathetic, a mother-figure.
    Vices: Hyper-competitive, adamant in refusing help/aid, rude when patience runs thin.
    Why she's so damn awesome: Once she does realize she's being a bitch, she's the first to voice it, and correct herself. She has great self-esteem and a small ego, a rare sight and a rare character. Also sports a high emotional intelligence, she's a respectable character.

    Rat Kiley is one of my most memorable characters, from The Things they Carried.
    Virtues: Upbeat, friendly.
    Vices: Childish, apathetic to others, low emotional intelligence.
    Why he's awesome: Someone dies in front of his face - he and the rest of the soldiers of his squad (Vietnam) don't even blink. He makes a joke, everyone laughs at him - he's the most extroverted. When the comic relief leaves, it's noticeable. He does some crazy stupid pranks that piss his squadmates off, and laughs their insults off - he's an unsettling character.

    When writing the character, the glimpses into the character's thoughts have to be subtle.
     
  3. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Boobs obviously.

    Haha, joking. For me I would have to say realism in how the character(s) are written is my biggest factor. I like it when I can relate to the character and the only way that is going to happen is if they have believability to them (realism). Also, the acting has to be good.
     
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  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    keep in mind that aside from what you write, a lot will depend on the casting director and the actor's portrayal!

    the most likeable character on paper can come across on the screen as a creep, if played by someone known for his/her villainous roles, or portrayed in an unlikable manner even by an otherwise hero type...
     
  5. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    If it had Heath Ledger in it, I would watch it. ...Although that's a pretty high standard now...
    I like the characters that have traits that make them difficult or more potent. The Joker and Ozymandias are my favorite villains, for example. The first has that lunatic aspect, and the second is a peace-loving villain in a sense. I like to see the not so great side of the protagonists, too, like Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
    Maybe I just like people who can kick ass and I don't care what side they're on, I don't know. lol
     
  6. Faust
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    Faust Contributing Member Supporter

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    Realistic characters your readers/watchers can relate to is vital. For example, in the book series Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (related: It's about to become a movie.), which is written in the first person we are often on the 'inside story' of what Odd is going through. Of course, Odd's whimsical nature and his ability to be positive in nearly every situation create interesting dialogue and responses to stimuli. Even though Dean wanted his character to be like that, Odd took a life of his own and we are able to see his personality develop throughout the book series.

    If you think about it, nearly every great work had 'interesting' characters. It seems the common theme is depth. People don't want to hear about a superficial one dimensional character that can only do x repeatedly. They want the character to experience conflict, to have to make right/wrong decisions and have those decisions impact their life and the story they are a part of.
     
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  7. Baba Yaga
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    Baba Yaga Member

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    You have a lot less time in a movie than in a book to establish a likeable character. Their characteristics, hobbies and idiosyncrasies are one thing, but it's a character's values that really determine whether or not you will bond with them.

    In the Matrix, it's Neo's insatiable curiosity, determined to reveal the truth no matter what that earns our respect. In Payback, It's Mel Gibson's determination to deliver justice and in Notting Hill, it's Hugh Grant's floppy hair... or his humility or something. These are not values you can just state in the first 3 minutes (I've heard the first 10 are usually the make or break for a screenplay), but the first things we see in the character have to lead us to believe that he is capable of extraordinary kindness, courage or some other value we share and admire.

    Having a few forgivable vices also makes him human. So what if he sniffs yesterday's underwear before deeming it wearable? He also plays with his dog before leaving the house, so it seems like his heart is in the right place. Half Nelson is a great example of a movie where Value meets Vice in almost equal quantities. I hope at least a little of this rant was helpful :)
     
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  8. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing to make a character likeable is to make the reader sympathize with the character somehow.

    In Payback, Gibson's character is betrayed by his friend, who also tricked his wife into betraying him. Despite the fact Gibson's character was not a nice guy (he did help his friend steal money at the beginning of the film), the viewer can sympathize with the character's desire for revenge.

    In The Matrix, Neo represents the viewer's curiousity. They are just as confused as Neo, and learning everything alongside Neo.

    Of course, then you have a character like Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode One. The guy had two lines and no character development in the movie whatsoever. Why did people like him? Because he had a double-bladed lightsaber.
     
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  9. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    When it comes to a movie, performance has a lot to do with likability. Writing can often take a back seat to a powerful performance. A powerful performance can make even a horrid character likable. Novel writers don't really have that luxury, at least not outside of their heads. Their job is transcribing that movie in their heads.
     
  10. lvlr
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    lvlr Member

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    I don't buy realism for making characters lovable.


    I don't buy it. Particularly the "realistic" thing. I can think of hundreds of movies with realistic characters, realistic plots, realistic themes; and they are often more boring than my real life.

    Examples:
    Rachel Getting Married (2008)
    Stand by Me (1986)
    The Squid and the Whale (2005)
    The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997)
    Losing Isaiah (1995)
    Dream for an Insomniac (1996)
    Melinda and Melinda (2004)
    You Can Count On Me (2000)
    Enigma (2001)

    That's 10 for starters I got too bored picking them out to keep going.

    Oh, wait, this definitely needs to be in the list!
    The Reader (2008)
     
  11. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    When did I ever say anything about realistic themes and plots? I am talking about a human acting like a human. The best example of crap writing for a character(s) I can give off the top of my head is the last couple seasons of Nip Tuck. It was complete and utter garbage (though the first couple seasons were great). It doesn't matter what kind of movie/show it is. The characters have to be believable (for me at least). And like I said part of that is the acting as well. The plot and theme can be whatever. My favorite genre's are Fantasy and Science Fiction. Those themes and plots are not believable at all (not saying that is bad).

    And no offense, this is my opinion. So I don't really care if you "buy" it or not. I am not trying to sell it to you. You asked a question. So I answered.

    Also, I personally think character driven "realistic" movies can be just as good as "unrealistic" Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is all about the writing and acting. I also feel they both can be equally as terrible at the same time.


    Edit: "Stand by Me" is an amazing movie. You are crazy to think that is boring.
     
  12. Ixloriana
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    Ixloriana Member

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    I would like to mention that a little sense of humor goes a long way to make a character likeable. :D Just my two cents.
     
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  13. SnappyUK
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    A very good point. If I wanted to create a likeable character, I'd consider the qualities I've found likeable in existing characters and look to incorporate them into mine, and a sense of humour is one of the key ones. And to get it across quickly to the audience? I'd place the character in an adverse situation where the resolution/escape involved dialogue or actions that showed their personality. In movies, the pre-credits sequences in the older James Bond films - especially the Roger Moore ones - were classic examples of this technique. The end of opening sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me - when the parachute opens - is the only occasion I've ever heard a cinema audience cheer.
     
  14. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    here is how I do it.
    I only write when I am feeling great and so my characters come out looking great too.
    the other thing I never write worrying about wether my readers are going to like my characters or not.
    I write for me first. my readers will either like it or not.
    your don't have to write for thousands out there, write for only few out there first.
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The male character in One Day (book and movie) was not at all likeable, but we still understand why he was like that, and why the girl loved him--that was the most important way to make the reader/viewer stick with him...
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the best example of how unlikeable characters can endear themselves to the audience is jack nicholson... so many of his roles are boorish to outright despicable, but between the writers who give him great lines and his own ability to worm his way into your heart despite being the ultimate 'bad boy' you can't help but like the guys he portrays... cases in point:

    witches of eastwick
    one flew over the cuckoo's nest
    wolf

    and too many others to list...
     
  17. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Movies will be different than a novel. In a movie, we have a bias toward how the actor looks. Also, how well he acts makes a huge difference.

    But let's take a look at Neo for a moment. Does he meet the text-book tricks for likeability?

    First the four main text-books tricks.
    1. Make the character relatable. Give him a job we can relate to. A desire we can relate to. A problem we can relate to, etc.
    2. Build sympathy. The person is not happy with their life. They lost a lover, etc
    3. Show good traits like have him help someone or even go out of his way to help an animal.
    4. Make the character interesting.

    1 is met right away. We can relate to him. He works a normal office job and seems unhappy with it. Many people are unhappy with their boring jobs/lives.
    2 is met right away. He desires something different. He hates the way his life is. He wants something more. He's not happy. This builds sympathy.
    4 is met a bit later in the story as we begin to see how interesting Neo is. He's handsome and interesting.
    3 is also met later in the story. He risks his own life for others.

    At least one of the 4 should be met at the very beginning of the story, IMO.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good point!
     

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