10 Methods to Make Your Character Likeable


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.

backstory, understanding characters, character development, research2) 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.

3) Understanding

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.

5) Vulnerability

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 Growgrowth, character arc character transformation

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?

8) Humor

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 Characters

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_3Sometimes September scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. She works as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author while penning her own stories, holds an English degree, and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. Find out more about September here, hang with her on social media, or visit her website to follow her writing journey and get more writing tips.

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Victoria Marie Lees
3 years ago

Thanks for these great tips. I’ve shared them online and will connect with you on social media. The only thing I can think of to add would be to remember that even likeable characters make mistakes and can do UNlikeable things to friends, family, and those around them. By the same token, antagonists can do something likeable and still be the bad guy. We need to make everyone three-dimensional in our stories.

Thanks again for the tips. Have a great week!

Carrie Nichols
3 years ago

Great list! Thanks for this article.

September C. Fawkes
3 years ago
Reply to  Carrie Nichols

Glad it was helpful!

Jean M Cogdell
3 years ago

Hmm, this gave me a lot to think about. Need to look a little harder at my protagonist. I do want people to like and understand her. Thanks for a great post.

September C. Fawkes
3 years ago
Reply to  Jean M Cogdell

Hope things go your way. Good luck with your protagonist!

Mark Marderosian
Mark Marderosian
3 years ago

Great post and list. So true about #1. Within a moment of his appearance on screen in “Tombstone”, Kurt Russell introduces himself to the audience by saving a horse from being whipped. From then on, anything he did as a character was justified by the audience. Handled well and not tritely.
Thanks as always!

September C. Fawkes
3 years ago

Ah yes, not being trite with “save the cat”–can be a little tricky because it’s used so much. Thanks for the example.

Tamara Leigh
3 years ago

Excellent list! Thank you.

September C. Fawkes
3 years ago
Reply to  Tamara Leigh

Glad you liked it!

Bryan Fagan
Bryan Fagan
3 years ago

I compared my current work with your list. I think I’m on the right track. Fingers crossed. As a reader I am drawn to characters I can relate to. Once I have that connection I’m hooked. Now that I am a writer I am constantly keeping that in mind. Your list will go into my file as a reminder of my goals to create the kind of character I am drawn to. Thanks!

September C. Fawkes
3 years ago
Reply to  Bryan Fagan

Great! Glad you are on the right track and that the list was helpful to you.