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message 1: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Hi All, I'm not sure if this has been discussed before but I'm writing a guest post on this subject and I'm looking for thoughts other than my own. Feel free to mention particular examples. Thanks


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments Well it helps if you can relate to/empathise with/"like" at least on some level, the main character. I find unlikeable or unreliable main characters spoil the reading experience for me. I meet enough unlikeable characters in real life, I don't need them in fiction! LOL


message 3: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee I agree. I feel the main character should be likeable, someone you can identify with. It makes reading so much more exciting when you can root for them.

I don't like being a part of a main character's life as they go about being mean and causing mayhem for others. I don't associate with people like that in real life, I don't want to when I'm reading.

I don't mind if secondary characters are unlikeable, and hopefully get their comeuppance at the end.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments You said it so much better than I did, Groovy. Why would the reader want to invest reading time with someone who's annoying or upsetting? Although with the current trend for "dark, gritty" fiction, there must be a market for it, I'll never buy into it.


message 5: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Thanks for your thoughts - strong opinions about likeability. For me it's a balance between "real" and "likeable". Some characters are just too likeable to be true, but there needs to be a hint of vulnerability or humanity in them. I like my characters a little unpredictable too, but not doing stupid things that seems to be for the convenience of the plot. Any specific examples where you had to put the book down because the character was so unlikeable?


message 6: by Groovy (last edited Apr 25, 2015 08:38PM) (new)

Groovy Lee I agree with both of you. "Dark and Gritty" is not for me. And I like characters that are "real" and "likeable", but a little unpredictable. Okay, but I will admit that I did like the dark, deranged, serial killer, Dexter, but only because he went after bad people. What does that say about me?

This might not be a big deal, but I used to read Harlequin Romance novels back in the 80's, and this one author used to always create heroines that were not only blonde, but white-blonde, a size 0, and of course with blue eyes (her idea of the perfect heroine)

Okay, if that's the way she wanted them to look, fine, I would often just substitute another look in my head. But the characters' personalities were stiff, cold, and really snobbish. They never laughed and thought they were God's gift to any man that wanted them. And the heroes were brooding, dark characters who only became human after their love was declared at the end. Oh my goodness! Needless to say, I never bought any of her books again. I'm sorry I can't remember her name.

I hope someone else can do better with a book they read.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments I can think of many unlikeable main characters. One is Albert Honig (eyeroll) in Telling the Bees. Another is the main character in Them Bones or in Ghost at Work--both women, and both made me want to shake them!! Though the one in Them Bones was the worst--I found her obsession with her "womb" and her "thumb tingling" to be stupid, unbelievable, and demeaning. And then of course there's Jane Austen Ruined My Life--such a whiny, silly child!!

Have a look at my reviews, Virginia, as the reasons I disliked each particular character are explained in detail there.


message 8: by L.F. (new)

L.F. Falconer | 13 comments If the main character is disagreeable to the reader, then other characters or something powerful in the plot must counteract that. I have one book where the main character is pretty unlikable, but he does have his good points--he loves dogs and cares about children. However, as the story unfolds, and the main character begins to unravel, by the end, most people could at least sympathize with him. There is usually a very good reason for an author to create an unlikable main character.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments L.F. wrote: "If the main character is disagreeable to the reader, then other characters or something powerful in the plot must counteract that. I have one book where the main character is pretty unlikable, but..."

Yes, there has to be some sort of plot force that creates an evolution of the character, or at least our perception of him/her (English is short on pronouns!)--a person can be disagreeable and yet have something that stirs our understanding, such as saying, "Well, in that situation I probably would react the same" or "you really can't blame him."


message 10: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Great insights into the plot/character relationship. Will check out your reviews O. W. Thanks. All your comments remind me of a Nicci French thriller where the main character is so unlikeable in Ch 1, I didn't care about her & wanted to stop reading. I persisted because my reaction intrigued me & discovered the reasons for her behaviour which were integral to the spiralling plot.


message 11: by Manasa (new)

Manasa (manasa_sharma) It is'nt compulsory to like the main/lead characters. Yes, it definitely helps the reader to understand the book better if he/she can relate to the characters. But not having similar qualities has helped me to understand myself better many a times !
Speaking of particular examples there's Adelina Amouteru, the protagonist of 'The young elites' by Marie Lu. She was the first character that crossed my mind. she is so dark and mystifying and the reader will most likely not relate to her character.


message 12: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee I didn't think about it in that context, Orinoco Womble. But I definitely agree. If the character is going to evolve and become a better person, or if they do something in a reactive way where we say, I probably would have done the same thing, I could look over their unlikeableness.

But if the character is just plain mean, and has no intentions of bettering him/herself, then I cannot abide it. I guess your influences while growing up has a lot to do with it, at least for me. I grew up around mean, hateful people who took joy in other people's sorrow. I don't want to take a journey through an entire book with a character like that.


message 13: by Manasa (new)

Manasa (manasa_sharma) Totally agree with groovy ! Besides it depends on the genre too ! There are some characters you just can't relate to !


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments I've been wracking my brain for the last couple of days trying to remember the title of the book that was first time I ran across a totally unlikeable main character--but no joy. I remember trying so hard to relate to this guy who was being a total hypocrite and buttmunch, until suddenly I realised hey--I'm not supposed to. But he wasn't the sort of character you can enjoy hating (like say Nellie Oleson or somebody)--he was just dreary.

It was some novel about a man who had become an Anglican monk after raising his family and becoming a widower; he was supposed to have a gift of healings and visions, but a lot of it was him making stuff up or using events to his own advantage. Eventually he does have a real sort of "pre-vision" thing, but I didn't like the story or the character enough to read the rest of it. So many books, so little time.


message 15: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee Buttmunch--lol!


message 16: by Darrick (new)

Darrick Williams | 1 comments I think the main character indeed should be likeable. We all read fiction to be taken away. if I can't befriend the main character(s) it will take away from the illusion. No one wants to be in the room with someone they despise. I feel if the main character(s) is to be written as a anger person, the reason must be understandable.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments That's a good point. How often have I bailed on a book lately because I just couldn't care about the character(s)!Life's too short to read about people that make you want to slap them.


message 18: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) wrote: "That's a good point. How often have I bailed on a book lately because I just couldn't care about the character(s)!Life's too short to read about people that make you want to slap them."

Orinoco, you seem to read a lot more than I do. (I don't have the time because I have book deadlines) So do you notice a difference between the type of main characters in books today as opposed to years back? If so, what are the differences?


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments Oh, huge. Authors used to worry a lot more about plot, which required stronger and more believable characters than the formula fiction does--and even Dan Brown and John Grisham are guilty of it. OK, so there was genre fiction then too, but less of this "same plot, same characters, just tweak the details" series stuff. First rule of good writing: You have to get the reader's attention and then hold it. Don't get lost in soapboxing, or too much description of what they ate and what they wore (though we do need to know basically what the person looks like if we want to visualise them doing the stuff!). It's the person that will hold the reader's interest, not their house or their car or whatever. They have to be believable within the context of the book, but also someone that either we can love to hate, or relate to. Otherwise the reader will just be bored stiff or annoyed--and who needs that?

There's nothing wrong with series of novels with the same main characters, but please--write them so that a reader doesn't have to have read them all, in order, to make sense of the story. A stand-alone that makes sense on its own can form part of a series!! I know that cosy mysteries can be pretty awful, but I will never forget picking up Number Two of the "Yellow Rose" series and the author ruined Volume One for anyone who hadn't read it by recapping the whole thing-- plot twist, conclusion and all. Not everyone has access to whole series, but why ruin your chances of getting a new reader interested enough to hang on and find more?

I read a lot because I don't sleep well. Sometimes I get so tired that I actually don't want to read any more, but since I also have tinnitus, audio books are out. (Walkman generation--how do you think I got it in the first place!)


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments Re: unpleasant characters you can enjoy disliking, Carl Hiaasen has some good ones. The "Skink" series is full of oddballs. I can't remember in which book he did a wonderful send-up of Geraldo Rivera; his unpleasant characters usually get their comeuppance in a splendid, satisfying way.


message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael Wood (goodreadscommichaeljwood) | 3 comments The main character should be understandable, more than anything else. Likability isn't always necessary, but if the audience gets where the character's coming from, they can find the character relatable, even if the character isn't the perfect person.


message 22: by Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) (last edited May 11, 2015 12:43AM) (new)

Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments Michael wrote: "The main character should be understandable, more than anything else. Likability isn't always necessary, but if the audience gets where the character's coming from, they can find the character rela..."

I think that's what attracts some people to the series that starts with The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. Thomas is certainly "unlikeable", he's embittered and angry from the git-go but then you see why, and see his struggles to come to terms with a totally bizarre situation...shame about the turgid prose, though that's nothing to do with the character himself.


message 23: by Joo (new)

Joo (jooo) | 5 comments I was trying to think of a book where I didn't like the characters, yet liked the story and Imperfect Strangers by David M. Staniforth is one. The female character is OK, but male is soooo creepy.
I suppose a scary story or psychological thriller will have characters you don't like, but that's what makes the story a good one.


message 24: by Virginia (new)

Virginia I started this thread because I was writing a blog post on the subject -- still not written, ugh -- but you may be interested in this post. Likeability is listed: https://screencraft.org/2015/03/24/fo...


message 25: by Kristin (new)

Kristin Vincent (kristinkitty) Yup, I like the mains to be likable or I'm not interested


message 26: by Jane (new)

Jane Jago You do need to be able to empathise with the 'goodies'. Sometimes I like to write bad guys that are sympathetic as well. Shakes things up a bit...


message 27: by Groovy (last edited Jul 27, 2016 08:04PM) (new)

Groovy Lee Usually, if I read a book and the story sucks!, the main characters are still likeable. But for the first time in my life, I read a novel where I just could not STAND the main characters:

The 'heroine', for lack of a better word, was so "beautiful" and "perfect" that when she entered a room, it fell hush while everyone gazed upon her; and even when she was being loud and obnoxious in a crowded restaurant, everyone around her just melted and wanted to be at her table. (I kid you not. That's how it was written)

A bad guy who has a heart is one thing; but arrogant, obnoxious, know-it-alls, are quite another. I will not, and cannot, read a book about main characters you would cross the street in real life to get away from if you saw them coming your way.


message 28: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Marchant (jamiemarchant) | 9 comments Virginia wrote: "Thanks for your thoughts - strong opinions about likeability. For me it's a balance between "real" and "likeable". Some characters are just too likeable to be true, but there needs to be a hint of ..."

Perfect characters aren't interesting to me because they aren't realistic. I like flawed characters; however, flawed doesn't mean unlikable. If I don't like the main character, I don't care what happens to him/her, and I usually don't finish the book.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments I see what you mean...likeable doesn't mean Perfect Mary Sue. I've bailed on a couple of those this year because perfect people aren't real...and the folks we know who pretend they're perfect are usually pretty nasty underneath. Now, if the author writes a character like that, and makes revealing their unpleasantness interesting, that's a good read!


message 30: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Jones (ttpswwwgoodreadscomkevinjones) | 3 comments I think this a very interesting topic as an author myself, in fiction there are many variable characters and there are some who are written perfect and some who who are not.

I prefer flawed main characters myself and I think many others do for various reasons. Even though fiction in itself is not real and the purpose is for entertainment a character should still feel believable in some aspect even if they seem to be a very accomplished individual and the best way to show this is through some flaws.

As for like-ability I think it varies depending on the reader, I've read many good stories where I was not particularly fond of the main character but the plot was interesting enough to follow. These stories with bland main characters tend to have other characters who were more likable and I think that is also another factor in stories where other characters can compliment the main in positive ways.

Perhaps the main character is a bit too uptight but he/she has an interesting companion who is very jovial and upbeat. I guess it depends on author preference, the readers and the way the story is written.


message 31: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee I don't know if I've ever read a book with a perfect main character in it...

I like main characters who are kind, good-natured, and all that. If that makes them perfect then I'm guilty. Because if for one moment the character is mean to someone, or arrogant, or any of the negatives thereof (see how I got that in there?:) it puts me off of the whole book, and I will stamp a DNF...


message 32: by Kevin (last edited Jan 12, 2017 12:39AM) (new)

Kevin Jones (ttpswwwgoodreadscomkevinjones) | 3 comments Lol maybe you'd like my first book then Groovy I tried to make the main character as kind and good natured as possible he is far from perfect though, He's naive, immature and has low self esteem. So from experience even with good traits there can be many flaws. Other good qualities would be bravery, tenacity, empathy and forgiveness

Lol my upcoming book however is way different I made the main character the absolute polar opposite in both bad and good quallities. I'm guessing you would hate this one.


message 33: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee ;)


message 34: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Marchant (jamiemarchant) | 9 comments Kevin wrote: "I think this a very interesting topic as an author myself, in fiction there are many variable characters and there are some who are written perfect and some who who are not.

I prefer flawed main c..."


It certainly depends on the reader, but for me, I don't care how interesting the plot may be if I don't like the main character. If I don't care about the character, I don't care about what happens to him/her. Not everyone feels this way, but a likable main character is essential for me. Not perfect, but one you can connect to and feel sympathy for. Without this, I don't like the book.


message 35: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Jones (ttpswwwgoodreadscomkevinjones) | 3 comments That's good feedback


message 36: by Lee (new)

Lee Bell (goodreadscomleebell) | 7 comments I have many stories centering around a "barbarian" type main character, who is bad natured [through no fault of his own of course]. I try to counter act all his negativity [violence, pillaging etc...] by giving him a sense of humor. It seemed out of place at first but I got used to it the more I wrote. He is young and bitter because his little sister and only living relative has been kidnapped by slave traders. Since he is a "tough guy" he is trying his best to cut off all of his emotions and deals with stress and pressure with humor. It's thinking" out of the box" I know but seems to work for me.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments It's thinking" out of the box" I know but seems to work for me.


Question is, though--does it work for your readership? If it doesn't, you may end up writing for yourself alone. If you don't mind not being published/sold, that's another thing.


message 38: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee I agree. Do your readers think a bitter, bad natured, violent barbarian is someone they want to root for, identify with, and on top of that, is humorous? Of course, like Orinoco stated, if it's just for your amusement, that's something else.


message 39: by Lee (new)

Lee Bell (goodreadscomleebell) | 7 comments I don't know yet. Am unpublished but will start editing soon with my publisher. Ppl seemed to flock to "Conan" books and movies and he sure was an ass![and a killer]. I'm hoping the premise of the story [little sister and only living relative being kidnapped by slaver traders and his search for her] will give the reader sympathy for him from the get go. Thus they can "pull" for him to overcome every life threatening obstacle and find her.


message 40: by Kristi (last edited May 08, 2017 09:17PM) (new)

Kristi Cramer (kristicramer) | 4 comments I can only think of TV examples of unlikeable main characters that have a large following: Dr. House, Peter Capaldi's Doctor Who, and Sheldon from Big Bang Theory. (ETA - they're all doctors, how interesting. What does that say about me, that I find them unlikeable? LOL)

Plenty of books I've read have main characters who are too annoying to connect with. Heroines who are TSTL, Heroes who are Alpha A$$holes. I can't be bothered with them. But the ones who have flaws and are shown to grow in the course of the book, or have valid reasons for their flaws, that is what makes a character interesting, to me.

My suspense Work in Progress has an unreliable narrator for the female protagonist. It's very apparent when I'm in her POV that she's lying about pretty much everything. But she has a very good reason for it, which is slowly revealed to the reader over several chapters, then it is revealed to the other characters at about the halfway point.

One "sneak peek" reader said she wasn't sure what to think about her, and wasn't sure she liked her, but I believe revealing her plight along the way will give readers what they need to connect with her, and forgive her for her lies.

That said, she's not lying to be mean or hateful, it's self-preservation. And in all other ways, she's a good character. I hope my readers find her as redeemable as I do.


message 41: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee If I'm aware that a main character is behaving in an annoying way, or is lying through their teeth for a reason, and it will be revealed why, then I can handle that. But characters that are mean, violent, and hateful by nature, is a big turn-off and I won't even try to connect with them.

I, also, can't understand how some women like reading about Alpha A$$holes and find them attractive and romantic even though they treat the women disrespectfully as if their very being is the reason she lives. Give me a break. That's why I as an author write about heroes who are respectful and realize the value of women, especially if she's his soul-mate.


message 42: by Lee (new)

Lee Bell (goodreadscomleebell) | 7 comments Seems like the movies are full of vicious "killer" types who were born in books: Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom etc... These are all classics of horror tho my book leans toward action/adventure, S & S [Sword and Sorcery]. I know for a fact that "Conan" followers, tho they may be small in number, are among the most loyal readers of any genre. I believe "action/adventure" readers expect, to a certain extent, the hero to be "evil" sometimes. I gotta write what 's in my brain. Lee


message 43: by Groovy (new)

Groovy Lee Lee, I couldn't agree more. You write your way. I always say, if you write it, they will come:) Your fans will find you!


message 44: by Lee (new)

Lee Bell (goodreadscomleebell) | 7 comments Groovy wrote: "Lee, I couldn't agree more. You write your way. I always say, if you write it, they will come:) Your fans will find you!"

Yr an intelligent and groovy guy.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 2564 comments I've just finished listening to the audio CD of Pride and Prejudice, and I have to say I never liked Elizabeth Bennet much; she always seemed as arrogant as she accuses Darcy of being, passing judgement on everyone and always seeing herself as their intellectual superiors! Yet listening to it, I could see how the characters evolved, and when I realised that most of the characters are actually in their late teens and early twenties, it made a lot more sense. Elizabeth is "not yet one and twenty" and her sisters are younger; we aren't told how old Bingley is, though at the end we find out that Darcy is 28--making Lizzy that "half the man's age plus seven" held so dear in the old days.


message 46: by Lee (new)

Lee Bell (goodreadscomleebell) | 7 comments well said.


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