There are all kinds of characters in any story--heroes, villains, sidekicks, love interests. The possibilities are endless. The way a reader could respond to any of these can be as diverse as the characters themselves. Some people may love a book's main character; others might hate him/her. Or it could be both--love to hate, hate to love. There are so many different ways to like or dislike a character. So when you're writing these characters, which one do you want?
It can depend a lot on the specific character you're writing. If your story has a villain, then you most likely want your readers to hate him. But villains can also be entertaining and fun to read. He doesn't have to be a sadistic monster without a single redeemable quality (unless that's what you're going for). The opposite can be said of a hero. A hero doesn't have to be perfect. They can do stupid things that make us want to punch them in the face. Characters need flaws so the reader can relate to them actually believe these are real people. No one is perfect, and a story about a perfect person would probably be boring to read.
But let's focus on the main character of a story. How likable does he or she need to be? And what exactly does it mean to be likable?
I've been told that my main character is not likable. Which is disheartening, to say the least. And confusing as hell, since I actually let him write a monthly blog post and people seem to respond well, or they're entertained at least. So why the big turn off? I guess it's not completely understandable. The first word I would use to describe Jordan would be manipulative, which I guess isn't all that likable of a trait. And he's a little full of himself, but not in a ridiculous way. He just knows what he's capable of and how other people respond to him. So why all the hate? Do I have to change him, make him more likable so that people will actually want to read this book?
It got me thinking that being likable doesn't mean the same thing in real life as it does in reading a book. Think about all of your favorite book characters--if they actually existed, would you be friends with them? We don't choose the books we read like we choose friends. We want books to entertain us. That doesn't mean that the main character has to be some perfect, goody two shoes kind of a person. In fact, you would probably be turned off by this sort of character.
We don't have to like a character in the same way we would like a friend. We just have to like to read about this character. You could love a character's snarky attitude, but if you met them in real life, you might want to smack them. There just has to be something about them that makes you want to read more. Think about this: is Lolita's Humbert Humbert a likable guy? Good lord no. But do you still like to read from his point of view? Yes! Because there's something captivating about the way his words come across the page. Liking to read about a character isn't always the same as liking them as a person.
So keep your imperfect characters! Nobody likes a goody two shoes, anyway.
Do you consider your characters likable? Are there are any characters from books you've read that weren't exactly likable, but you still wanted to read about them?