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Archive Writing Tips > Does your protagonist need to be likeable?

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message 1: by K.L. (new)

K.L. Murphy (klmdhm) | 3 comments Thoughts on whether or not a protagonist needs to be likeable...several of today's most popular books (i.e. Gone Girl) don't worry about that. Do you?
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message 2: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Priester (jenniferpriester) | 32 comments For me it depends on the character. Typically for me I prefer them to be likable if they are supposed to be represented as a good guy or a hero, but I enjoy reading about bad guys and villains too.
I think it is all in how the story is told, such as does the character feel as if they could be a real person, and how you want your readers to feel about the character. I know books, TV shows, and movies that have been about the more unlikeable characters and have been just as successful, if not more on occasion, then ones about the good guys.


message 3: by Nicolas (new)

Nicolas Wilson | 17 comments It depends on the genre. I'll happily cavort with an unlikable protagonist in a dystopian sci-fi setting, where they are just as much a reflection of their surroundings. I'll find it hard to get into a memoir, general fiction, romance, etc. with that same character, where there are other, more likable characters to identify with, or where their personality feels out of place with the general setting.


message 4: by K.L. (new)

K.L. Murphy (klmdhm) | 3 comments Thanks, Jennifer and Nicolas. I sometimes think the unlikeable character can have some redeeming characteristics a la Jay Gatsby - just enough to make you care. If it's a strong characterization, it can work. However, Nicolas, I think you're right that this doesn't usually work as a positive in romance.


message 5: by Erica (new)

Erica I think for me I do have to like the protagonist, or I'm just not as emotionally invested in the book. I'm reading Sparkles right now, by Louise Bagshawe, and halfway through I still can't bring myself to care about any of the main characters in it - they all annoy the hell out of me on some level. It's a good book otherwise, but I doubt I'll ever reach a point in it when I can't put it down again until I've finished it, simply because I don't care who wins in the end.

On the other hand, the best writers are those people who make you love characters even if they have some profoundly unlikeable traits. The best example that springs to mind here is Tyrion Lannister - he's a bit of a bastard, but god I love the guy...


message 6: by Francis (new)

Francis Franklin (francisjamesfranklin) | 32 comments In my recent novel I created a main character who was quite dark, but I wanted the reader to empathise with her and even like her a little, but I guess that some of the things I like about her aren't necessarily liked by everyone.

One review said this:

this novel may be great for someone who [...] isn't motivated by the need to like the characters in the story. I, on the other hand, am a reader who must love or love to hate the characters in a book in order to fully immerse myself into the story. Without that connection, it is difficult for me to care about what happens in the overall plot.

I do sort-of agree with this, because I myself like to like characters - but I also want to believe in them, and likable characters are often bland and unbelievable.


message 7: by Stan (new)

Stan Morris (morriss003) Not necessarily likable but certainly interesting. I'm not very enthused about what I've read in Game of Thrones, but I get more interested when I'm reading about Tyrion.


message 8: by Tony (new)

Tony Talbot | 39 comments Not to plug my own work, but in my last book, the main character wasn't particularly nice.

I had to make him nicer as the book went on, or the readers wouldn't care when things started going wrong for him. A reviewer commented on how it sucker-punched them to realise they liked a character who was initally so unlikable.

Some authors play with this - I haven't read it, but most reviews of "Lolita" I've seen say the main character is very likable and charming.


message 9: by Rosanna (new)

Rosanna Leo (rosanna_leo) I write romance, so for me, the protagonist ultimately must be likeable, but can have flaws too. An unlikeable hero/heroine wouldn't get very far. However, today's romance reader expects their hero/heroine to be somewhat tarnished. I don't like perfection in my characters, or in the ones I read, and like to see the little quirks in their personalities.


message 10: by Heather (new)

Heather James (makexbelieve) | 22 comments I don't think a character has to be completely likable for you to enjoy a book. As Stan pointed out, Game of Thrones is a great example - there are a lot of characters in the series that I wouldn't say I 'liked' but I do like reading about them.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig are examples of books I've read where the protagonists aren't particularly likeable but their flaws make them interesting to read about.

I think that most readers expect their characters to be realistic, and this means that they have to have imperfections.


message 11: by Robert (new)

Robert Spake (ManofYesterday) | 12 comments Stan wrote: "Not necessarily likable but certainly interesting."

I was going to say this exact same thing.


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