Do Likeable Characters Help Make Better Books?

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!

Happy reading!

7 thoughts on “Do Likeable Characters Help Make Better Books?

  1. Interesting question.

    I don’t necessarily need to like a character in order to heighten my reading experience – but I do need to connect with them. Typically this is often when they are likeable, and I can relate to experiences and/or personality, however I have found times that I’ve felt connected to a character where none of those things where present. For me, my best reading experiences are when I want to invest in a character.

    Having said that, I have definitely DNF’ed books because a character was so unlikeable / had no redeeming qualities.

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts on this topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jade! You have some really interesting and relevant thoughts on this, and you are right, connecting with a character is the most important thing. Personally it helps me feel more engaged with a book. Likeable characters are my preference, but there are definitely a few exceptions where I have liked books without necessarily liking the characters!

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  2. Good question. I’m not sure if they need to be likable as in I would be friends with them if I met them, but there has to be some little part of them that the reader identifies with or sympathizes with. I definitely have a couple of characters I just don’t like in my MS. Hmm, maybe I need to look for the good in them a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kim. I completely agree, there needs to be some part of a character that the read can sympathise with, unless in the rare case that the story is so compelling that it doesn’t matter! But overall I just love the experience of being able to connect and care for a character 🙂 🙂

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  3. This a great post! I love the discussion surrounding this topic also because opinions on it are very divided. Personally, I would love to think that I don’t need to like the main character to enjoy the book. But I only need to take a look at my favourite books and novels I have given 5 stars to see that all of these have likable characters.
    But in a way I think that completely unlikable characters are somewhat unrealistic; any real individual is complex with desires, values, norms and fears, those characters I often dislike tend to have very few of these important characteristics. For example, if we never see any passion at all from a character towards anything, I have to ponder whether that person is very realistic.
    On the other hand, some well-developed, unlikable characters definitely exist. For me they are usually mean people whose behaviour is not condemned at any point. Like a bully whose passion is hurting others. Those characters affect my enjoyment of a book because I cannot connect to them even though they are complex and well-crafted. When I’m reading books like this, I only rarely get completely immersed into the story in the way that I see the events and locations around me. And that’s really why I love reading, that sensation when I have read for 2 hours and my partner asks what I have done that day. The objective answer is that I have been reading a good book, when I feel like I have been fighting for freedom and eaten ripe plums by a Greek river. Like you said above, unlikable characters might leave us detached from the story.
    I’m not a writer, so I feel that it is difficult sometimes to differentiate between undeveloped characters and just simple unlikable ones, I simply tend to have the same reaction to both. But I could still easily enjoy a villain’s perspective if it is well written and we get a whole picture of the complexity of that character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! This is an excellent comment and I loved reading your thoughts!
      Like I said, I definitely engage more with likeable characters, and you make a great point about 5 star reads – like you almost all of mine have likeable characters.
      I see what you mean about completely unlikable characters being a bit unrealistic. Each person has many separate layers to their personality and in some less well developed characters this does not always come across.

      Liked by 1 person

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