Saturday, April 17, 2010

Does a main character have to be likable?

A friend shared with me recently her manuscript, and while I liked her story, I didn't find her main character particularly endearing. This bothered her - more than it bothered me.

What is likable, after all? Yes, I know that one of the first tenets a writer is taught in creative writing class is that the protagonist should be likable - lovable, even. But I think that's easier said than done. We're an extremely diverse society now, filled with a wide variety of lifestyles, opinions and social mores. While I might admire a heroine who is sweet and good and docile, you could find her an intolerable doormat.

My point? Likability is subjective. However, character development is not. And that, I think, is the key. No one's perfect - we shouldn't expect our characters to be. But if they're learning, changing and growing as the story progresses, readers can't help but relate. Will they be perfect - or at least more likable - in the end? That's for you to decide.

Prolific author M.C. Beaton has a series featuring a character named Agatha Raisin. Agatha is self-centered, short-tempered and somewhat foul-mouthed. I find her hilarious and quite likable, despite her flaws - Beaton gives you such insight into why she is the way she is that in my opinion, you can't help but relate. And she does learn from her missteps - kind of. She is clever, smart enough to solve a few murder mysteries. you find in the next novel, she can't stop bragging about it. And that makes me like her even more.

Consider Jennifer Weiner's best-seller, In Her Shoes. The younger sister, Maggie, is incredibly unlikable at the beginning of the novel. Not only does she seduce her sister's boyfriend, but she's selfish, manipulative and none too honest, to boot. But by the end of the novel, you're rooting for her to succeed. Why? Because she's grown, and we've been let in on the process.

Not every women in a damsel in distress; not every hero is a knight in shining armor. Some of my favorite people are quirky. And so are some of my most-loved characters.

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