Depending on genre “likable” can be very subjective. In the romance genres there are some basics. Men need to always be as close to an alpha as possible and still have a sensitive side. Yeah. I know. No real men are like that, hence why we read a romance. Women need to be sweet and somewhat venerable in order to allow the alpha-side of the male to show. Or do they?
There are millions of romances out there where heroines are starting to become strong, can do characters. I am not talking about physically strong either. Emotionally strong or independently minded, but they still have a weak moment where the man is able to get in there and still ‘rescue’ her. The differences are probably the times. Historical romances are even seeing more woman with some gumption, not necessarily true to the times but that’s why we write, to imagine. Jane Austen didn’t have a 100% wimpy women and super macho men. Granted in the end most of the men are fairly alpha, but you don’t know this until the end. Jane Austen is a good example of breaking rules on likability.
In Sense and Sensibility all her men are either likable or not likable until closer to the end. Edward is actually kind of a wimp, but he finally does something with gusto at the end – marriage to someone who deserves it. Willoughby is the macho man, giving Maryanne the time of her life. In the end he ends up a slim, but you feel for him a little still because although he abandoned her for money, you get it.
What is your recipe for a male? I’m not sure you can really summarize them into a recipe , but i suppose we can try.
I have a character in one of my manuscripts who is angry at the beginning. The reader sees that she is angry and upset. It wasn’t until a few critiques that one person said they didn’t think she was likable. I didn’t know how to react to this. Instead of changing the story I left her angry but moved up her motivation. I never could get feedback from the that same person so I have to trust my other critics that although she was angry to start, you understood even if you yourself had never been in that situation. Because my female characters are a piece of me I wanted to ask if my heroine was going through a situation that somehow I was the only one to have ever crossed. I highly doubt that.
So in the end if you character is angry or hurt or rude, if their motivation is clearly spelled out does that make them likable? If they show a vulnerability even while showing their worst trait could you love their story? Maybe there is a difference between a desirable character, a likable character, and a character that keeps you reading.
How much of your characters faults can you show before you have given their motivations? I started reading a book with the most unlikable of characters for the first few chapters. In fact both hero and heroine were unlikable. In the end though, I fell in love with their story and started to hate the victim of the book .