This is a question that has been on my mind for several days. Are books more enjoyable to read when the main characters or narrators are likeable? I have had a lot of tangled thoughts on this, so I should probably get them down and write some kind of analysis!
For most of the books I read, I prefer the main characters to be reasonably likeable, especially when written in the first person. It helps me identify with them and relate to them more, as well as feel a lot more compassion towards them, depending on how the plot develops.
Likeable main characters enable me to connect to the story more, and when a novel reaches an extremely tense moment or a major twist, it is like I am feeling the tension with them. For me, reading rarely gets better than when I have a character I can fully empathise with. As for less likeable characters, most of the time I feel a little bit more detached because I do not view them with the same level of affection.
That is not to say that unlikable characters do not totally work for me, but I need them to be complimented by a sophisticated and engaging writing style. There are some fantastic books containing characters that have very few redeeming qualities, although in most cases, a writing style that I struggle to fully engage with, and characters that are difficult to relate to, make for a bad combination.
Of course, it is too simple and frankly inaccurate to categorise all the main characters you read into ‘likeable’ and ‘unlikable’. All of them have complexities and unexpected sides to their personality. A lot of them have something to hide. Some of them are unreliable. And none of them are perfect.
So far this year I have read books from the point of view of a really wide variety of characters and narrators. Their personalities range from compelling, to innocent, to determined, to vulnerable, to arrogant, and to free-spirited.
To me their personality and how they come across matters a lot, but a relatively warm and engaging writing style from author helps me be more likely to forgive the flaws. Indeed, get the characterisation and style just right, and you are a long way down the road towards writing an amazing book!
Do the main characters need to be likeable for you to find a book more enjoyable to read? I would love to get some thoughts on this, so do please leave a comment!