What Makes a Likable Character?

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.

10%Unique

40%Macho

30%Driven

20%Sweet

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    .

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4 thoughts on “What Makes a Likable Character?

  1. Kiersi says:

    I think making characters likable is a total balancing act. In the case of your (rightfully) angry heroine, the motivations are important, but counterbalancing her faults with some positives is a must. It sounds like her motivation might have some of those counterbalances. Show how, despite her anger, she can also be sensitive and compassionate. Maybe she has a soft spot for puppies 😀

    Ideal romance male? I’m actually pretty sick of alpha males. I read a book recently (Bodacious, reviewed on my website) where the male love interest is silent. He’s not commanding or “alpha” in any way (mostly because he doesn’t talk!), and I actually found it really refreshing 🙂 I have a short story series about a woman’s love-capades, and the male my beta readers found the most interesting was the sensitive firefighter who didn’t have a speck of alpha in him. Go figure!

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I agree. Balancing the faults and the motivations can make a character go from a jerk to relate-able. It’s so hard though, since a character is your baby and somehow we can love them no matter what. Getting into the head of readers can be a little harder.

      I am going to have to go look at this silent male thing. My men aren’t “Alpha” either. They are sort of what i envision as a good balance. What makes them a man in my perspective is that they can do something stereo-typical. Fix a car or water leaks, etc.

  2. Katherine Checkley says:

    Nice post…I came across it on She Writes. I don’t mind the “angry” character per se, so long as I can see that he/she has some vulnerabilities. The protagonist of my novel is a male who, at times, acts like a you-know-what. He redeems himself over and over though, and in even the midst of his bad behavior, I try to show deep down he has some weaknesses. It makes him more identifiable.

    Plus, the readers have seen his point-of-view from the beginning, and sometimes when an entire story is told in first person, somehow the reader (no matter how awful the character can be) will inadvertently side with him/her. Mostly because they’ve taken a journey with him or her.

    Love the blog…now following. 🙂

    • M. Ziegler says:

      My character isn’t angry the whole story. Just the first chapter or so and then she starts to get out of her funk. I will need to do something though since even with a few sentences changed one person would still say she isn’t relate-able. Of course two others like her. So the question is, who is being nice and who is being picky. Likability can be so hard to judge.

      I love that you call your own character an a-hole! 🙂
      Thanks for the comment and for following.

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