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message 1: by Virginia (new)

Virginia I'm writing a blog post about this topic and would like to hear opinions other than my own -- with examples if you feel particularly strongly about a book. Thanks.


message 2: by T.H. (new)

T.H. Hernandez (thhernandez) | 41 comments It's not required. Think of Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces or even Nick Dunne from Gone Girl. I think it depends on the genre. In romance, I think it's absolutely necessary, but in other genre's much less so. Literary fiction, definitely not, and even mystery series. I don't particularly like Kay Scarpetta in Patricia Cornwell's novels, but I've read them all because I like the stories.


message 3: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Your point about genre is great. Thanks. I think in crime we tolerate less likeable characters. I get irritated if a character does something totally implausible for the convenience of the plot. Tana French's characters are all flawed but it helps that they're first-person narrators so we give them a bit of slack when they do unlikeable things. Thanks for your examples. I do find Scarpetta brittle but I've stopped reading her stories.


message 4: by Chiqui (new)

Chiqui (chiquireads) | 10 comments Whenever I think about whether a character should be likeable or not my mind always defaults to Holden Caulfield. Did I like him? Sometimes, but most of the time I wanted to strangle him. Some people liked him, some didn't but tried to understand him, but no one can deny that he was a complex character. And I think that's what makes his character interesting, I guess? That people are so divided about their opinions on him. I don't necessarily think the main character should be likeable so long as the novel engages the reader and the character may not be likeable, but he or she can be complex.

In a somewhat related note, I would be more engaged in reading if the narrative accurately points out the flaws of the character, i.e.: not make some creepy dude into some hopeless romantic or something. I would immediately throw the book across the room if legitimate flaws are played up as something you should admire in a character instead of portraying them as actual flaws.


message 5: by Sara (new)

Sara Parker (sparker2013) | 20 comments The main character should at the very least be well-written. I personally like characters who are likable and relatable. Flawed, yes, but I find it hard to enjoy a novel if I dislike or despise the main character. I just read a book in which I hated the main character. I very nearly put it down.

No character should be perfect, but neither should they be a living paradox. If I don't like a character, I may be able to get behind them if I understand where they're coming from. But if they're full of contradictions and have alternating motives for their actions I will never enjoy the book. These are just my personal thoughts.


message 6: by Will (new)

Will Once (willonce) | 32 comments I think there needs to be something about the main character which we can like (or can relate to), but the whole character does not have to be likeable per se.

Books tend to work best when we imagine ourselves as the main character, sharing their experiences with them and wondering what we would do in their place. That is very hard to do if the main character is someone that we don't like.


message 7: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Thanks for all these comments. Interesting. I like the idea of there being something likeable we can relate to and, if its well-written, we'll go with the character, even if they're not totally "consistent" in their personality. (Real people aren't consistent, without mentioning anyone in my family by name :-))What about first-person narration versus third-person? I find I go for first-person because it's so immediate and real. Third-person, I'm more aware of the author pulling the strings.


message 8: by Sara (new)

Sara Parker (sparker2013) | 20 comments It depends on the book for me. I like the possibility of omniscience with third person since you can get in anyone's mind, but sometimes there's one main character who requires all the focus. They may be more important or have the necessary qualifications for narration. That's when I like first person. I find myself reading more third-person novels, but it's not as if I actively seek them out. It may be the more popular viewpoint or I may just be subconsciously drawn to them. I'm not entirely sure.


message 9: by Jim (last edited Apr 26, 2015 06:37PM) (new)

Jim Vuksic | 210 comments The most important thing is that the main character be realistically portrayed. In other words, human.

Probably one of the best examples of a main character, upon whom the success of the story totally depended, was Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger's best-selling literary classic The Catcher in the Rye.

Who could ever forget the first-person narration style in which Holden's lengthy soliloquies often required full-page paragraphs. Readers and critics either loved or hated him. Some even loved to hate him. There was no middle ground.


message 10: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 9 comments I think the main character has to be believable and the reader has to empathise with them, they certainly don't have to be likeable. The best example i can think of from recent books I've read is Glokta from Joe Abercrombie's First Law series.


message 11: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn | 1 comments Likeable-ness is subjective. A character likeable or relatable to me may bug the hell out of someone else.

I've only ever cast aside a book when I found the main character either 1) too vulgar or 2) too grotesque, to the extend that it felt like an extreme.


message 12: by Patricia (last edited May 04, 2015 06:58AM) (new)

Patricia Gligor (goodreadscompatriciagligor) | 11 comments I read (and write) mystery/suspense novels. My favorite books have been the ones with a main character that I liked and could identify with. For me, if I don't like a character, I don't care what happens to him/her no matter how strong the plot.


message 13: by Michael (new)

Michael Puttonen (mput) | 12 comments I would think it difficult for a reader to sustain interest in an unlikeable main character, especially one with no relatable or redeeming qualities. However, if the reader is also unlikeable, perhaps that isn’t an issue. ; -)


message 14: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 785 comments I would think so, in a sense anyway. Obviously you want the book to be enjoyable hence why making a character likable would be the thing to do. I always try to make one character likable and one character that reader's should hate. What is a good book without a balance of good and evil?


message 15: by Yzabel (new)

Yzabel Ginsberg (yzabelginsberg) | 54 comments I'd say yes, but if taking "likeable" in a very large way: not necessarily as "s/he's nice", but as in "I like reading about him/her." If the character is a complete sociopath, but has awesome ideas and takes good decisions that make the story progress in an interesting way, I'll file hom/her as "likeable", even though s/he's awful as a human being.


message 16: by Christina (new)

Christina George (christinageorge) | 11 comments I think yes, but honestly it's really fun to create a character that's flawed and make him likable. I mean think: Hannibal Lechter or the husband from Gone Girl. These were two pretty unlikable people and yet you end up liking them (sort of) - or, even better, Red Reddington from The Blacklist. Totally unlikable guy, right? I mean he's a crook, etc. but he becomes likable because the writers give little tidbits of the "good" in him - we as readers (or viewers) glom onto that. We want to believe that good wins out. So if you're careful yes you can do this - meaning make an unlikable character your main guy or gal.


message 17: by Jason (new)

Jason Chapman | 25 comments I suppose it depends on what your character does in the storyline.


message 18: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 12 comments If I have to chose between 'likeable' or 'interesting', I'll chose 'interesting'. Always.


message 19: by Missyb (new)

Missyb | 3 comments I want a book with great characters. I even think that great characters can overcome a boring story. I feel that the main characters do need to be at least somewhat likeable. If they have depth, are interesting, then something about them will probably be likeable, at least somewhere in the story. Even "bad" guys can be likeable, because something about them is interesting. I guess an example would be Loki. He's my favorite from the Avengers movie.


message 20: by Rachel (new)

Rachel (ratliff12) Virginia wrote: "I'm writing a blog post about this topic and would like to hear opinions other than my own -- with examples if you feel particularly strongly about a book. Thanks."

I think some of my favorite books have incredibly unreliable main characters, who you can't help but like. Prime example, Sutton by J.R. Moehringer. Sutton is an electric character. He's smooth and charming and larger than life. Ultimately you discover that his version of life and the way it really happened don't necessarily match. But you still love him for the ride he took you on.


message 21: by Veena (new)

Veena Nagpal | 17 comments Virginia wrote: "I'm writing a blog post about this topic and would like to hear opinions other than my own -- with examples if you feel particularly strongly about a book. Thanks."

Very interesting topic! Would love to read your blog post on it, Virginia, once you have it up.


message 22: by Veena (new)

Veena Nagpal | 17 comments Sara wrote: "The main character should at the very least be well-written. I personally like characters who are likable and relatable. Flawed, yes, but I find it hard to enjoy a novel if I dislike or despise the..."

A character 'full of contradictions' and one who has 'alternating motives for their actions'... Wouldn't that be a complex very 'human' character and therefore very interesting?


message 23: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 12 comments Michael wrote: "I would think it difficult for a reader to sustain interest in an unlikeable main character, especially one with no relatable or redeeming qualities. However, if the reader is also unlikeable, perhaps that isn’t an issue. ; -)"

I write about a freelance assassin who enjoys her work and has no remorse. Several reviewers commented on how reading Katla's adventures gives them vicarious enjoyment, and many profess their obsession with Katla to be 'guilty pleasure'.

I also have several reviews where the reviewer professed that they don't like protagonists like Katla, but they were fascinated and liked her anyway.

And I think most of that is due to making her relatable and interesting, rather than 'likeable'.


message 24: by Michael (new)

Michael Puttonen (mput) | 12 comments Martyn,

Yes, I agree mitigating factors help make an unsavory main character palatable, especially a recurring one in novel-length books. A main character totally despised by the reader won’t gain much traction. Making that character relatable in some way (and interesting as well) seems the best approach to avoiding that pitfall.


message 25: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 785 comments Yzabel wrote: "I'd say yes, but if taking "likeable" in a very large way: not necessarily as "s/he's nice", but as in "I like reading about him/her." If the character is a complete sociopath, but has awesome idea..."

I never thought about it like that to be honest. I looked at "likable" as the charisma and things that make up the character and they way they come off in the book as likable. Not considering the fact of if the character is "likable" because they are nice, friendly, goody-goody and an overall good person.


Martyn V. (aka Baron Sang-Froid) wrote: "If I have to chose between 'likeable' or 'interesting', I'll chose 'interesting'. Always."

Definitely! Interesting covers the fact that they are likable among other things.


message 26: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 12 comments Justin wrote: "Definitely! Interesting covers the fact that they are likable among other things."

Take Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. I doubt if anyone would consider him likable, even in the broadest sense, but there's not doubt that he's an interesting character.


message 27: by Liz (new)

Liz  (LizMax) The main character needs to be interesting. It doesn't really matter if they are a good or bad person, as long as they are someone you want to know more about.


message 28: by Nicholas (new)

Nicholas Jr | 16 comments I think it really depends on the story. I do not think the main character should always be likable, however I will agree he/she needs to be interesting. Somehow, it seems readers often end up liking the main character, even if they initially are not considered likable. This is a great question, by the way.


message 29: by David (new)

David Meredith | 54 comments The main character should be ENGAGING. The protagonist should be interesting enough to suck you into the story and make you care what happens to them, but that is not the same thing as "liking" them. A great example of this is Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange - he is interesting, intriguing, but ABSOLUTELY not likeable. He's a murderous, narcissistic, sadistic street thug, but he's also a peerless narrator and really makes the book.


message 30: by Edward (new)

Edward Fahey (edward_fahey) | 5 comments There should always be some bad in the good guy and some good in the bad guy. Otherwise they are not believable. If not believable, the reader doesn't care about them. If reader doesn't care about the characters she doesn't care what happens to them. If she doesn't care what happens to them why bother reading the book?


message 31: by Moxie (new)

Moxie Darling I don't think the main character has to be likeable. If the character is *supposed* to be unlikeable, that is. If the character is supposed to be likeable but is just annoying, that's a major turnoff. But if they're supposed to be awful and it's written well, it can be brilliant.


message 32: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (glass_mountain) | 9 comments I think it helps if the main character is attractive (in personality) or appealing in some way.
One of my favourite anti-heroes is Shakespeare's Richard III. He is ruthless and narcissistic, but also appealing in the way that he takes the audience into his confidence.
I admire books with an unreliable narrator (or point of view). I think that must be technically difficult to pull off. I've just been watching the TV adaptation of 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' by Susannah Clarke. There both the main characters are complex, but she makes you care about them.
So I think a main character who is an anti-hero can make for a compelling read. But s/he has to have some sympathetic or intriguing qualities otherwise you're going to get fed up and stop reading, I think.


message 33: by Ross (new)

Ross Ponderson | 11 comments I think it depends on the character's context and relationship to the story.

If a character is to-the-core-rotten, readers may want to read the entire book simply to cheer at the end when that character gets his/her comeuppance. Although from a different medium, look at the buzz and interest generated by the J. R. Ewing character from the old Dallas prime-time soap. He was a global sensation despite not having a likable bone in his body.

Likable characters don't necessarily need to be completely benevolent either. It's okay to be flawed.

I remember one of my favorite TV series from the 1990's. It was called Third Watch, and it focused on the professional/personal lives of a group of NYC firefighters and paramedics. Over the span of the series, two of the principal characters (FDNY paramedics) committed mercy killings on two beloved and dying people in their lives. Another (an NYPD officer) committed premeditated murder on a criminal who was harassing the cop's wife.

Yet, these characters were painted so sympathetically throughout the rest of the show's run that you couldn't help but admire them for saving lives and dealing with dangerous criminals on the streets of NYC.

While I'm certainly not condoning either euthanasia or first-degree murder, my point is that people are the sum total of their decisions and actions. There are credits and debits on EVERYBODY'S ledger. People aren't perfect; IMHO literary characters don't need to be either.


message 34: by Crystal (new)

Crystal Kaswell (crystalkaswell) | 9 comments I tend to find a lot of "unlikable" characters very sympathetic. I like a character who has deep flaws but is still inherently good.

For me, all that matters is that the character is interesting and sympathetic.


message 35: by Shannon (new)

Shannon Peel (shannonpeel) | 7 comments They say if you're character is unlikeable - give him a dog.


message 36: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 19 comments Can be heroes or anti-heroes, like Michael Corleone - a murderer and a mobster, who nonetheless many admired. Important to offer an agenda that readers may connect with


message 37: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 12 comments I think 'interesting' is more important than 'likable'.


message 38: by May (last edited Aug 08, 2015 06:51AM) (new)

May Sage (maysage) Martyn V. (aka Baron Sang-Froid) wrote: "I think 'interesting' is more important than 'likable'."

Yup, my thought exactly! One of the best book I read last year is about a psychopath. My own character in And Then, I Diedthinks she's got psychopathic tendancies; warm and fuzzy is fine too, as long as they don't bore anyone :P


message 39: by Lorena (last edited Aug 09, 2015 06:05PM) (new)

Lorena (yaxchi) | 8 comments Try as we might, the characters we painstakingly develop into whole, yet flawed and we hope fundamentally likeable people may be completely abominable to some readers. I am reading V.S. Naipaul at the moment, and while the characters in this present book are oily, corrupt, and not at all attractive, I am right in there with them because of their dogged survival instincts! Who knew? They are more memorable already than many mom and pop and aunt sophie characters that I might have felt more comfortable or sympathetic with.


message 40: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Barclay (shellcastle) | 6 comments Nope. Serge A. Storms is a homicidal maniac. He has entertaining qualities, but is a total you know what. Still, Tim Dorsey's Serge books are phenomenal.


message 41: by Ray (new)

Ray Perreault (rayjayperreault) | 9 comments I don't think the main character has to be likable although it depends a great deal on the story. In any story where 'one' of the main characters is unlikable they are usually balanced by other characters that are more pleasant. It would be interesting though to have the main character a despicable character and see how their minds works.


message 42: by Lorena (new)

Lorena (yaxchi) | 8 comments Sara wrote: "The main character should at the very least be well-written. I personally like characters who are likable and relatable. Flawed, yes, but I find it hard to enjoy a novel if I dislike or despise the..."

Yes, I agree! The reader must have enough relatable fuel to keep them hanging on or they can very quickly go on the next book in their Kindle...


message 43: by V.W. (new)

V.W. Singer | 36 comments In my opinion the main character doesn't have to be likeable, but cannot be repulsive. If the reader cannot at least identify with some of the character's motivations or intentions, then I doubt anyone would read the book.

For instance, in (say) a crime/adventure novel the MC is a hit man for the mob. He is ruthless and treacherous, and kicks puppies. But if his daughter is killed in a horrible way and the book is about his search for revenge, then we can at least identify with the grieving parent and with the natural desire for vengeance that motivates this person.


message 44: by Anne (new)

Anne Martin | 94 comments It depends on the public you aim to conquer. Young guys don't need anything to like, just lots of action and power, or fights for power. But young guys don't read. They watch sports, action flicks and maybe five books a year...
Older men are a bit fed up by hitmen, boum boum, I'll kill you, I've killed you but probably can get more easily into a story where none of the character is likable.
Girls want to identify with someone;it can be a sweet innocent girl falling for the bad boy, but then, the bad boy is expected to redeem himself. Women, I believe, don't need the naive sweetness or the weak heroines teens love. But still, it is pleasant and reassuring to have someone in the book you can care for. Would Gone with the Wind have been such a success if Scarlett had been heartless? she was complicated, but a loyal friend and a loyal lover...


message 45: by Gregory (new)

Gregory Booker (goodreadscomgreg_booker) | 1 comments The main character does not have to be likable but the character must be believable to be given consideration. In others words, he/she must be understandable as the character is developed and perhaps then sympathy or even compassion may overrule the negative aspects of the person.


message 46: by V.W. (new)

V.W. Singer | 36 comments Anne wrote: "It depends on the public you aim to conquer. Young guys don't need anything to like, just lots of action and power, or fights for power. But young guys don't read. They watch sports, action flicks ..."

That isn't true at all. Young boys don't need/want just action and fights for power. What they want is a main character they can admire. A leader, a hero. They want stories where there is a challenge, risk, and something to achieve and fight for, and they want a story where the protagonist wins admiration for his deeds. And yes, I said "his". I would guess that doesn't change that much even as they grow into adulthood.


message 47: by Ray (new)

Ray Perreault (rayjayperreault) | 9 comments I agree with Anne, boys need more that just fighting. They have a need to identify with a leader. Hopefully SF/Fantasy can give them a leader that is worthy of their respect. Parts of the Internet are scary when you look at characters like "Dark Man" and I think there are others like "Thin Man" or something.
In my books I've created characters that are usually forced to a higher level of leadership. I don't like shallow characters that just fight and win; because their the best. I like lead characters that are reluctant heroes. They are forced into a situation where they must expand and become better not just create a bigger bomb to kill the aliens.
I also like evil characters and I think it is important to balance the good with the bad. If the 'good' is a character the reader can relate to, than the 'bad' needs to one they can relate to.


message 48: by Crystal (new)

Crystal Kaswell (crystalkaswell) | 9 comments One thing that was hard for me to learn about writing is how important it is to really focus on a goal. Do you want to challenge people? Do you want to appeal to a broad audience? Do you want to appeal to a critical audience (think blockbuster vs. arthouse film)? Do you want to express yourself? The broader your aims, the more likable and fit to genre your characters should be. Now, if you want to challenge people... then you can really have some fun with it. But then (many) people aren't going to like the character or the book, because most people don't want to be challenged.


message 49: by V.W. (new)

V.W. Singer | 36 comments Crystal wrote: "One thing that was hard for me to learn about writing is how important it is to really focus on a goal. Do you want to challenge people? Do you want to appeal to a broad audience? Do you want to ap..."

Everybody has their own style and technique, but for me I simply focus on the story I want to tell. I don't try to target a particular audience. Once the basic plot is created, then the characters can grow to fit its requirements.


message 50: by Ricardo (new)

Ricardo (ricardofayet) | 8 comments I think you do need your readers to be able to empathize with your main character on some level, otherwise the reading experience really becomes frustrating.
That said, as a reader I can definitely empathize with almost any kind of character if he/she is coherent, has a story, feelings, etc. I don't know if that's what "likeable" means, but yeah, in some way (sometimes twisted), I need to like the main character in the story.


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