Saturday, April 9, 2016

Writing Tips: Likeability

Are your characters likeable enough?

I’ve heard of readers who will put down a book if the characters are unlikeable. I’ve even done it myself. At the same time, some of the most popular characters out there are criminals, liars, and other unsavory types. 

So what gives? Is likeability important or not?

It is important, but here's the deal: likeability in fiction isn’t the same as likeability in real life.

Some of my favorite characters are not people I’d want to hang out with in real life. In real life, we tend to value people who are kind and reliable. In fiction, we gravitate toward people who are interesting, who dare to do the things we never would.

To make your characters likeable, think about the following things:
  • The more intelligent, awesome, or funny your character is, the more the audience will forgive.
  • Perfection isn’t likeable. It’s annoying and boring. Make sure your characters struggle and mess up occasionally.
  • Whining isn’t likeable. Your characters shouldn’t spend the entire book complaining about how they’ve been wronged. Make them strong. Make them take charge of their lives—and the plot!
  • If your character does horrible things, try to show your readers why. Providing glimpses into a character’s inner turmoil can help make him or her more relatable.
  • Mean characters don’t need to be mean to everyone all the time. Who does you character love? There should be someone—a family member, a friend, a love interest, even a pet—the character cares about. Small acts—like giving money to the homeless or standing on the bus so someone else can sit—can also increase likeability.
  • Criminals and other bad guys can still follow a code of ethics. What moral lines do your characters refuse to cross? Maybe they rob banks but refuse to hurt anyone. Maybe they steal, but only from those who can afford it. Maybe they’re loyal to their partners and friends even when questioned by the authorities. Maybe they’re willing to turn themselves in order to stop a bigger crime. Maybe they cheat, but only when the system is seen as rigged.