Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Characters - Do They Have To Be Likeable?

I find that as a reviewer I spend a lot of time discussing the characters in the novel I just read. I discuss what I thought of them and how it impacted my enjoyment of the story. Characters have the ability to resonate with us, and stay with us long after the novel's last page as been turned. There are some characters destined to become legend and whose name, and story, will be remembered long after the novel has been published.

For some people it all comes down to likability. Is the character likeable? Are they someone I can relate to? For me these questions are not the ones I ask myself. My questions will always be was this character realistic? Did this character impact me? And was the character flawed? It's these characters, the flawed, layered, conflicted, and sometimes unlikeable that stay with me. My favourite books and characters exist in a shade of grey where right and wrong are often blurred.

Dexter Morgan from the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay is certainly not someone you would "like". He is, however, compelling, complex and fascinating. The same could be said for Jazz from Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers. Both these characters are chilling, yet charming. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho will leave you analyzing him long after you finished Brett Easton Ellis's shocking read.

A young woman haunted by an accident, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and potentially a little unstable. Of course I am referring to Mara Dyer from Michelle Hodkin's amazing The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. She's imperfect, and you may not always like her actions but I was drawn to her. As a selfish, oblivion seeking, guilt ridden socialite Araby Worth from Bethany Griffin's Masque of the Red Death may not be liked by everyone. I found her vulnerable and realistic for the society she lived in. Her guilt, while making her act out, also endeared her to me.

Cassel Sharpe, the main character from Holly Black's Curse Worker's series is another great example. He's capable of becoming a member of the "mafia" type organization that many of his family belong to. His skills lend themselves to criminal activity. Cassel spends a lot of time resisting this side of himself and tries to do right; his version of right is just a skewed. His school betting ring, his walking the fine line between lawful and unlawful, and all while being so charming make him fascinating.

Lastly, Lisbeth Salander from Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy shows a gritty, tough exterior to the outside world. Underneath this is a vulnerability that makes her captivating. Her unlawful computer hacking is matched with her desire to dish out her own brand of justice on men she deems deserving. Her brilliance and intelligence coupled with the tragic events in her life offers a fascinating character study.

I don't need a character to act the hero to enjoy the plot. Give me the misfits, outcasts and deliciously flawed characters. They make the fiction I read much more intriguing and entertaining.

What about you? Does a characters likability matter to you? Are you more interested in an honest, yet story driven, character with flaws? Or do you need there to be something redeemable in your characters? Let me know in the comments.


  1. I agree! I don't think characters have to be likable for the story to be amazing! One of the characters that continues to resonate for me is Adair from Alma Katsu's books The Taker and The Reckoning. In the first book he is definitely the villain of the story, but in the second book he becomes so complex you can't help but begin to doubt your initial hatred of his character. As to Cassel Sharpe...I will always like him! Even if he is a part of the mafia his charm is too hard to resist!

  2. I guess it depends on what you like. I don't always like heroes, so just because someone is a hero that doesn't mean they're likable to me. I think I usually like what I consider real characters. A little flawed, with little hangups and stuff. At the same time, just like in life when I don't hang out with overly negative people, I tend not to like overly negative characters. Great post though. :)

  3. I tend to be all about the flawed characters. No one is perfect, and the same should be true about characters in books. Like you say, those flaws and layers are what make the character and story interesting. Where likability is concerned, sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn't. Some of my favorite books are ones where the author manages to make me like a character that I wouldn't normally like. So yeah, I definitely agree that there is a whole lot more to characters than just whether or not they are likeable. While it's nice at times to just have a likeable character, there has to be more than just that.

  4. I think I connect with a character better if they are likable, but my definition of likable varies. lol! This is definitely an interesting question. I loved Mara Dyer!

  5. Great post. I think I like complex characters. Whether bad or good, villian or hero, I just need them to be real and complex. I do like flawed characters, but again, that's because people are flawed. I don't have to like the character. Definitely a thought provoking quesiton!

  6. KATHY. YOUR WHOLE POST. I LOVE IT. And it definitely made me THINK.

    I think they need to be likeable to a certain extent for me... or at least, there has to be a quality there that fascinates me. Something that sucks me in and makes me want to know more. I tried reading Marked by P.C Cast ages ago, but god, the main character annoyed me so much that I never bothered to finish it. She was neither likeable for me, nor was she intriguing. But they are wildly popular books, so I don't knock anyone who does love her!

    Anyway, what I love are honest characters with believable flaws. They're allowed to make mistakes or be an asshole at times, no one is perfect, but they need to be written in a compelling way for me to want to invest in them. There needs to be a believable reason behind their actions and thoughts, I need to understand what's shaped them into the person that they are.

    They don't always have to be likeable, but there definitely needs to be something that attracts me to them, whether in a good or twisted way ;)

    Also, I absolutely love this paragraph:
    I don't need a character to act the hero to enjoy the plot. Give me the misfits, outcasts and deliciously flawed characters. They make the fiction I read much more intriguing and entertaining. -

    Such a fantastic post! <3

  7. For me, there is a difference between likeable and likeable.. I will try to explain myself, because I know that it mst sound weird :p

    If you take Harry Potter, there are some characters in it and their personality are totally unlikeable, like Umbridge. But that doesn't bother me, because her characters is well-written and her role is essential in the story. I don't like her, but she doesn't annoy me.

    If you take Twilight, for me, the characters in that book are so unlikable, because they annoy the crap out of me. They are swooning all over each other because of their appearance (and her smell of course) and they are too stupid to make smart choices.

    You see.. There is a difference in the way the author portrayed a character. There are a lot of unlikable chracters, most of the villians, but they are well-written and everything seems to fit. You just hate their guts, but they don't bother you. And for the, the real unlikable characters are the ones I want to smack :p

  8. A character doesn't have to be sugary sweet and saintly to capture my interest. I love Stacia Kane's Chess Putnam, Jaye Wells Sabina Kane, Chloe Neill's Merit. But there has to be something redeemable. The women I mention above are not perfect but they do act in ways to help other people. They run towards what others run from.
    SOme people like Sabina and J Frost Vlad Tepesh are burdened with a dark past but someone still loves them.
    Great topic. Thanks! Steph from <a href="http:fangswandsandfairydust.com>Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust</a>


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