To Like Or Not To Like

Generally speaking, in my fiction I tend to create characters—protagonists, that is—whom I like, or whom I at least sympathize with. Not just understand, mind you, but also feel a certain compassion for. My guess is that this is pretty typical among writers.

But my new central character has got me thinking. I like her, because I know and understand her, even though I’m still figuring her out. I’m not so sure, however, that the great and discerning “reader” we all imagine will like her as much. Is this a problem?

My concern is that in order for the kind of novel I’m envisioning here to succeed, I think protagonist buy-in is necessary. There are famous stories with protagonists whom many readers find reprehensible, but they read on to find out what happens and how it happens. Case in point:


I’m struggling now to refine my understanding of the boundaries between “liking” a character versus “identifying with” him/her versus “reading to find out what the hell is going to happen.” Every story is different, I know. The elements shake out differently. But are there stories where a certain affinity for the star player is crucial?

Advice and insights are most welcome. Please share.



3 thoughts on “To Like Or Not To Like”

  1. Yes! Believable trumps all other concerns. But likeable does not equally saintly, or even sticky-sweet. It can simply mean a character whom a reader relates to and roots for–flaws and all, and there’s plenty of them in good fiction. Thanks Leanne. Keep the thoughtful comments coming!

    1. I agree that “unlikeable” can be interesting, although people have told me my characters are too self-absorbed, whiny, etc. Which is a turnoff and can make people stop caring about, and then reading about, them. Flawed is different. Flawed characters might have some unappealing traits, but we pull for them anyway. Maybe because they try so hard. Or they’re working to change. They’re funny. Or they find themselves as despicable as we do (a.k.a., Humbert Humbert). So I guess I’m striving for flawed at worst. After all, most protagonists change by the book’s end, right? Otherwise, what’s the point?

  2. Here’s my two cents…
    I don’t think “liking” a character is necessary–at all. In fact a character who is too likeable can be a real turn off. Kind of like eating too much chocolate. It leaves me feeling sick to my stomach from too much of the sticky and sweet.
    And, on the other hand, an “unlikeable” character can make the story more interesting. I want to know why they would act like that. What makes them tick? What do they get out of acting that way?
    Bottomline: a character has to be believable. Flaws help to round out a character. Thus making them more real.

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