A key point of writing a successful story is to have likeable characters. This is usually a must for the protagonist, but the cast overall should have a number of likeable characters. Here are 10 methods to accomplish that.
1) Pet the Dog/Save the Cat
This method might be the most well-known. In movies, it’s used to get the viewers to like the protagonist immediately. Show your character doing something kindhearted for someone else–petting a dog or saving a cat out of a tree–to make them likeable. The audience realizes, “Hey, that guy is a good guy: He saved that cat!” or, “She gave that homeless guy money!” In short, show us that your character is kind.
For possible conflict scenarios that might work for your story, go here.
2) Intriguing Backstory
I love character backstories. Probably more than the average writer. Give your character a tragic or interesting one and it goes a long way to making an emotional connection. Look at Snape in Harry Potter. Everyone hated him through almost the entire series. Then, once we got his full backstory, people started saying he’s one of the best written characters of our time. Fans seem to have completely forgotten that Snape actually was a jerk. If your character has a fascinating backstory, we’re interested.
That last one leads me to another point. When readers understand the character, they’re connected to them. That’s why everyone loved Snape after the Harry Potter series. We finally understood him. You can create that understanding through a backstory, but it’s not the only way. Reveal to the reader why a character is the way she is through a scene of dialogue, internal thoughts, or action. When readers understand someone, they care more about her.
4) Cool Factor
Heighten your character’s cool factor. We like characters who are cool. I mean, we like characters who are nerdy too, but we don’t not like characters who are cool. Give your character a “super power,” or give him something that is a wish-fulfillment for the audience–we wish we were him.
Cool factors can be any number of things. They can be a real magical ability, like in fantasy, or they can be a heightened skill or talent. Maybe your character is a genius or a killer guitarist. Whatever it is, it’s a “super power” in that she’s better at it than the average person.
We care about characters who are vulnerable, damaged, or hurt. This is one of the reasons the “orphan” protagonist is so popular. We feel for a child who has lost his parents. A vulnerable character may have a physical impairment or ailment; she might have chronic pain. Or an emotional hardship. Maybe she’s just been cruelly hurt by someone she thought was her best friend.
6) Give them Worthy Goals
When characters have goals we can relate to or that are at least goals worthy of having, we want to see them succeed. We want them to fight for it. The goal can be primal, like Katniss’s in Hunger Games. Or it can be a burning interest like in August Rush, where the protagonist yearns to compose great music. Or you can do both.
7) Let them Grow
Show how your character grows into a better person over the course of the story. We care about people who change for the better–after all, don’t we all hope we can change for the better? Can you really hate the Grinch after his heart grows by two sizes?
Make your character funny. We love being with characters who make us laugh, whether it’s clever wit, entertaining snark, or endearing self-deprecation. You can learn more about humor approaches in my post here.
9) Make Your Character Liked by Others
When we see other people like a character, we feel like we should like her too. We like characters who are liked. This is one of the reasons you will often see the loyal best friend character.
10) Self-Aware of Shortcomings and Weaknesses
Make your character aware of her own shortcomings and weaknesses, that makes us more forgiving of them, and we can relate, because none of us are perfect. It can be a confession that happens in passing, or a passage about an ongoing tendency or temptation the character struggles with.
Your protagonist, by the way, should fulfill a number of these to increase her likeability. But these are methods that may be used for any character in a story. Just be careful not to use the same method for all the characters in your ensemble. And if you find yourself dealing with an unlikeable person that you want to make into a likeable character, I have an article on that as well.
So, what methods work for you when creating likeable characters? Leave them in the comments.
September C. Fawkes is a freelance editor, writing instructor, and award-winning writing tip blogger. She has edited for both award-winning and best-selling authors as well as beginning writers. Previously, she worked as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author.
She is best known for her blog, which won the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Award and Query Letter’s Top Writing Blog Award, and has over 500 writing tips. She also offers a live online writing course, “The Triarchy Method,” where she personally guides 10 students through developing their best books by focusing on the “bones” of story.
To learn more about her course, read her tips, or inquire about her editing services, visit SeptemberCFawkes.com. Grab her AMAZING free guide on Crafting Powerful Protagonists while there. You can also find her on Facebook, X, Instagram, and Tumblr.