The Importance of Likeable Characters
October 17, 2012
A few months ago, someone asked me what elements made a great character. “As long as the character is believable,” I said, “then that’s a good character. They don’t need to be likable–after all, we read about serial killers and tyrants all the time, right?”
Wrong. While characters should be believable, I underestimated the importance of likability and didn’t truly appreciate it until I read a book with believable, but unlikable characters.
The book in question was Acacia, by David Anthony Durham. I don’t want to review it here–I already did that on Goodreads–but I do need to explain myself just a little. First of all, besides the info dumping, Acacia is beautifully written, the world is very interesting, and the characters are all believable and realistic. But none of them are likable. As a result, I didn’t care about the world or the story or the conflict the characters were in. And because I didn’t care, I was bored. The story meant nothing to me.
Currently, I’m about a quarter of the way done with Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. In it, there are just as many, if not more characters than in Acacia. I’m thoroughly enjoying Game of Thrones, and the biggest difference is that Martin’s characters are likable.
This isn’t a post on how to create likable characters. It’s a reminder of how important it is to have them–at least one, usually the protagonist. If you don’t like the characters, you won’t care about their problems. I’d also argue that if you passionately hate a character, you can care, but in the opposite way. You won’t want to see the character you hate succeed. You’ll want to see him fail.
Either way, you don’t want your reader to feel apathetic about your character.