HOW TO CREATE A LIKABLE CHARACTER
When it comes to understanding the main character, a lot of times it’s difficult to near impossible to figure out what characteristics are actually “likable” and what characteristics are despised by readers.
Honestly, this doesn’t vary much from genre to genre, and quite frankly, it doesn’t vary from male characters to female characters.
Will there be some subtleties in how likability is executed from a female character to a male character? Of course, there are some keys that will ensure that your readers won’t roll their eyes at the characters you’ve developed.
When I say confidence, I’m not talking about the “stick your chest out and flaunt your abs” kinda’ confidence. I mean that you, the author, must be confident – confident in who your character is and what your character’s quest should be.
So if you want to make a school wimp who gets beat up all the time, as the writer, you must know without a doubt that this is the route that you want to go. You can’t have Harold Haroldton getting slammed against the lockers in one scene, and then two scenes later he’s ready to retaliate his unrestrained revenge on his attacker.
Why is that?
It’s because Harold needs to have a more definitive character arc than just a temporary spike in “pissed-offed-dedness.” There has to be a build up of his willingness to stand against his attacker, a sense that he’s fed up.
I’ve read stories where wimps don’t work because in the end, they aren’t truly wimps. They’re more like characters who just tend to lose fights. To me that shows that the author wasn’t truly confident that creating a wimp was what she wanted to do.
Take a look at this post about how your main can become a bully: Please, Sir, Don’t Hurt Me.
Confidence alone does not get the job done. Your character must have a stake in a ground, something that he will not compromise. Even though he gets pushed around, he has to have something that he won’t budge on, something that he’s willing to have his nose broken over a dozen times before he’ll even consider giving in.
This type of character has an inner strength that we admire as readers – something that we can encourage him in, something that he mustn’t give up.
The trouble with characters without a resolve is that there is nothing the reader can use to connect with the character, nothing that we want to see him accomplish.
What if the only accomplishment is that we want him to stand up against his bully? Well there’s a resolve, but it’s not enough. We still need that sense that he is a person with something in him that’s worth saving.
It could be that he takes care of his dying mother while his other brother ignores her, going out at night and not tending to her medical needs. This shows that Harold is wimp by day, but a hero by night. And now, as readers, we want to pull for this character, because we know that by pulling for him, he can better care for his mother.
Harold may be a wimp at heart, and he may love his mom, but if he isn’t going anywhere, no one wants to read about him. Is it enough that he gets the courage to fight his bully?
Yes, it is, BUT, what’s most important are the clues along the way that show him growing to this moment. There has to be a trajectory – a line that he travels.
You can build it up this way:
ACT 1 – Harold gets bullied, but he’s been hiding it from his mother who doesn’t need any more stress to couple with her illness.
ACT 2 – Harold’s mother reveals that she’s known about him getting beat up at school, but she never brought it up.
ACT 3 – Harold knows that he has to be strong, not just for himself, but for his mother.
This is a pretty even trajectory, but let me mention something here. Harold doesn’t need to “fight” his bully physically. Merely standing up to him is sufficient. He may still get beat, but what’s important is what has happened within Harold.
I’ll take a more in-depth look at likability in the next post.
Thanks for stopping by.