Does a protagonist always have to be likable?

  1. This. I love reading the adventures of pathetic, jerky losers if the work does something with that-- makes it funny, or does something interesting and engaging with their self-made tragedy. If there's no draws, though-- the character is unlikable and bland, or worse, they're unlikable but the fiction considers them otherwise, that's when I tend to check out.

  2. A writing professor once told me "a protagonist needs to be two of three things: likable, competent, and proactive." So, if your protagonist isn't competent, they need to be likable and proactive. If they aren't likable... Etc. Etc. Etc.

  3. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia doesn't have a cast of the most competent dirt bags, but they're certainly proactive and always entertaining. I don't know if I'd call them "likeable" because I don't like any of them, but they're all amusing. I'd substitute "entertaining" for "likeable."

  4. I was trying to think of a counter-example. I can’t remember his name but I’m wondering if the protagonist from Slaughterhouse 5 would check 2/3 of these in most peoples eyes

  5. Hah, that's one way to phrase it. I feel like there's too much "arbitrary" writing advice floating around like: your character MUST be likable, or your character MUST be proactive.

  6. Cool, thanks. I'm going for a grim dark setting so the characters can't exactly be that likable due to their circumstances. Although there are parts of them that have potential for redemption.

  7. And then there's David Wong in the John Dies at the End shit show (author's actual label for the series). Unreliable asshole narrator that has a clear mental illness telling a story of cosmic horror through a protracted series of dick jokes. He's borderline likable at best.

  8. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why people liked my more passive protagonists, they're always likeable, but now I know it's because they're competent lol

  9. Catcher in the Rye protagonist is none of those things. But than again it was probably my least favorite book of all time. Still a very famous book somehow.

  10. I think my favorite example of an unlikeable protag has to be Aiden Peirce from watch_dogs 1. The man is on the surface all doom and gloom. But looking into his personality, he's controlling and manipulative in a "I know what's best for you and I will protect you wether you like it or not" sort of way. There usually not a part in the story where he really isn't the driving factor and usually makes himself out to always be in control of his situation.

  11. I've never heard this before, but I think it's fabulous advice. Though I find it very difficult to come up with unlikable characters, I came up with a couple I've seen on TV, like Dr. House on "House" and Ivar the Boneless on "Vikings." They definitely meet the competent and proactive criteria.

  12. Likable doesn't mean good though, or even charismatic. More than anything, I'd say it means interesting and relatable. The readers need to like them, not necessarily the other characters.

  13. Just because someone's a horrible person doesn't mean that they can't be likeable. There are many shows out there where villains are just as much or even more of a favorite than the heroes.

  14. Absolutely and indeed I've seen some of themm.but i haven't seen many books where the POV character is a villain. That's y i was asking.

  15. The protagonist is presumably the main character and if the audience doesn't care about what happens to them they won't finish the story.

  16. Yeah..i'll let them get attached to their motives which is why the audience will care about them. Personality wise he's going to be pretty cruel.

  17. Not necessarily. I finished Orange Is the New Black because of all the other characters. I despised Piper.

  18. There’s this writing trope called “Petting the dog.” For every two/three bad things an asshole protagonist does, he’ll do one good thing to show the reader that he is at least three dimensional. So if a character shoots up a meth lab, setting the whole place alight and stealing $1 million, and leaving one gangster to burn alive horribly, he might leave $500,000 on the doorstep of an orphanage. This shows us that despite being a violent, vindictive killer, he may come from very strained circumstances, and still feels empathy for the suffering of innocents. That opens up a mystery as to how the killer came to be. So, no, protagonists don’t have to be likeable. But they should show some hidden depths to explain why they’re such assholes, in my opinion. Iago (not the parrot) and Dolores Umbridge are the exceptions lol

  19. I mean the Kid in Blood Meridian is one of the most unlikable protagonists ever. Somehow you still kind of care about him towards the end.

  20. Not at all. All of the protags in Anne Rice's Vampire novels are viscious predators, on top of which, Lestat is also a narcissist.

  21. Your characters need to connect to the reader but the way you do that isn't to give them likeable traits, it's to dive deep into their thoughts and let them justify everything they do and follow their thoughts through their decisions. Giving them a positive trait or two does allow you to hook into them a bit easier and there are probably some things to stay away from (actually depicting eating puppies, or slightly more seriously a protagonist with no agency is probably going to be annoying to read).

  22. If they aren't likable, their motivations need to be understandable. You need to show how they are the hero of their own story. Thanos in the Avengers movies was not likable, but his motivation, although horrid, was understandable and made sense based on his personal history. Marvel kept him from being completely despised by showing a little bit of humanity in every movie.

  23. It has to be relatable, as in people can still relate to him in spite of the difficulties brought by the setting. This doesnt mean he necessarely needs to be "good" or "nice": Perfect characters that can do no wrong and be perfectly moral and uncorruptible can be unrelatable and unlikeable too. Avoiding the extremes is a good tip, dont make him a monster...but dont him a saint either.

  24. No of course not. I’m ASOIAF, we read from the perspective of Cersei and Jaime, who are to put it lightly, c**ts. They’re not really the protagonists but we still read from their POV.

  25. I think most people liked him and supported his plan of killing criminals at the start, but when innocents started to get involved, and also L, people hated him.

  26. Spoilers: “A Separate Peace” follows the POV of a kid in school. He’s spiteful, jealous, pushes his best friend out of a tree, convinces himself (and some readers) he didn’t, spreads rumors, and even ends up killing him.

  27. They don't have to likeable and in order to be good characters they should have flaws. You just need to make sure that there is some reason for you to be invested in them. In the book Save The Cat! Writes A Novel it talks a bit about ways you can make them a bit more likeable without getting rid of their horrible traits and I would definetly reccommend reading it if you haven't already.

  28. I think the expected answer is yes, but if you can do it exceptionally well, then no. I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence has a very very very unlikeable protagonist, but it works for the tone and series, again from what I’ve heard

  29. I think it also depends on the book you’re writing. For example, if it’s a mystery, depending on the style, readers might be more likely to forgive the main character if solving the mystery is more compelling than their character flaws (especially if the main character is particularly talented or uniquely positioned to solve the mystery.)

  30. The main character of Lolita Humbert Humbert is the exact opposite of likable but he is an entertaining scoundrel. There's plenty of other examples but I use him because he's EXTREMELY unlikable but the book is a literary masterpiece.

  31. Likable in what way? Interesting and clever with a unique point of view can be very likable for the reader—in that they like reading it. How about C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters? Old Screwtape is sending demons down to corrupt mankind. Lewis makes this very funny. I liked the stage play, too.

  32. i don’t think they necessarily have to be likable, but whether it’s the protagonist or the deuteragonist, tritagonist, etc, it needs to be someone that keeps your reader invested. i have a story that i’ve written in the past where the main two characters are complete scumbags, but what keeps the reader hooked is the relationship they have with one another. so, as long as you have a facet of your plot keeping your audience attached, then i think a point of view where you see the protagonist’s twisted and corrupted views is just as investing.

  33. I'm not sure of it, it could be a little bit of both; for example there was this one anime, there were a few main characters but there was one main character. I liked all the other ones, the plot seemed ok and some of them were already my favorites but the main character who's pov the creator of the original story and thus the studio was going to be using was somebody who I and a lot of the other people in the possible fandom could not absolutely stand.. I really wanted to watch it because some of the other main characters were so great but I just could'nt bring myself to finish even the first episode.

  34. You should watch The Boys on Prime Video if violence and gore don't bother you. It's a show with many primary characters and none of them is a correct person lol. The good guys are questionable at best, while the villains are a bunch of f*cked up psychos. The point tho is that they are all super interesting. They have their reasons to act the way the do, whether their goals require them to do certain things or their backstories led them to be the people they became. Another example is the show You, where the main character is a stalker and a murderer and still very charming. So yes, your characters can be bad people and still attract the reader's interest. Like the Joker in the Nolan's trilogy (or even Ted Bundy in real life – didn't he have "fans" even after it was found out he was a serial killer or am I imagining things?). Just give them a reason to act the way the do, and goals. Many people love fictional villains, myself included :)

  35. Yep..I've always been fascinated by villains. Idk if this is an unpopular opinion but villains make really interesting characters.

  36. I have to admire your literary skills, I would have a hard time putting such well thought out and constructive criticism so concisely. Wow!

  37. Yes. Not to the characters in the STORY, mind you, but to the reader. Even if he’s a total dick to everyone he meets, he needs to be the sort of character you love to hate.

  38. LoL... No. That said, if you make a character compelling and interesting, some people are going to find them likeable anyway. Most people are predisposed to assume the protagonist is a likeable, good person, and will adjust their thinking accordingly in surprisingly twisted ways.

  39. Likable doesn’t mean a good person. It means that they are likable to the reader. It means make your characters interesting, unique, proactive, and compelling.

  40. Protagonists don't necessarily need to be a great person, but they must have at least some level of enjoyment. A good example is the protagonist in 1984 by George Orwell

  41. "Great" literary works are about awful people, the awful things they do, and the awful things that happen to them. So no, Rabbit doesn't have to be likable and neither does Macon Dead.

  42. They don't have to be likeable but they do have to be compelling. I have to care about what they do and what happens to them.

  43. my protagonists are rarely ever likable but their actions, beliefs, and thought processes are understandable based off their backgrounds, which is what i personally look for in protagonists. i only wish for them to make sense given their own personal lore as well as making sense in the world that surrounds them (meaning they have reason to exist in the setting and plot as they are written).

  44. Write your character accordingly to their personality. I typically write different characters from the 1st person POV so I get the reader intimate with the characters hard held beliefs that may offend some but entertain others. It's up you to know what audience your going to cater to. I write alt history so I know my main audience will be history nerds so I have the characters observe things that would stroke the ego of a history nerd.

  45. In literature, they told us they don't have to. I mean they have to be interesting in some sort of way but they can be a piece of shit

  46. Relatability is important. If we see ourselves in the character, consciously or not, we will be hooked. We will root for the protagonist.

  47. Likable? No, they don't have to be likable. Take Glokta for example (First Law novel trilogy). Definitely not likable (most of the time, he has his moments). What sets Glokta apart is that you can understand him. You can see how he got where he is. You can see the sh*thole he's in. Hell, you can even empathize with him occasionally, but do you ever like him? No, not a majority of the time he's "on screen".

  48. Jorg from mark Lawrence’s books springs to mind. He’s an absolute twat and so edgy but lots of people loved those books.

  49. Hecks no. I like my protagonist to be like a actually human being, they do the wrong things sometimes, they not always a goody two shoes about everything I can't stand that. Ppl hate Walter white I actually rly like him. Would I in real life I don't know probably not.😂

  50. I don’t think anyone can say that the actions that Walter White in Breaking Bad made can be considered “likable”, he’s basically a huge dick to everyone he cares about and let’s his goals and ambition blind him for the entirety of the show. That being said, I did find myself rooting for him in most scenarios even thought I knew he was an absolute scumbag, so yea, characters don’t have to be “likable” to be enjoyable protagonists

  51. I've read plenty of characters who I'd never want to know in real life but I enjoy watching or reading about because they're interesting. In fact, that describes some of my favorite shows and books.

  52. No, there are characters that are confused for likeable because they are interesting and compelling and say cools thing on occasion.

  53. I would say they need relatable events or experiences to keep the reader entertained and involved in the story but doesn't have to be agreeable on all topics, they are free to make mistakes in fact showing human or creatures nature by doing so and further connecting to the audience.

  54. I don’t think so. After all, in the novel I’m writing now, the main character is unlikeable to a whole other degree. I, voluntarily, try to make him as unlikeable as possible to see if the fact you’re stuck with him from start to finish changes something or not. Don’t forget, it’s your novel, your rules. You do what you want. People may not accept that though.

  55. I want to be a writer when I grow up and noticed it’s hard to come up with something more original. My biggest idea was to write from the perspective of a villain. Imagine Jekyll and Hyde but we have Dr. Jekyll’s POV throughout the whole story (although that would take away one of the most interesting aspects of said story). Or Rapunzel told from Mother Gothel’s perspective. It’s why I want to study psychology, get into the brains of my character and show or represent how they think and why they act so horribly. But in the end, with this amazing idea not seen done too often, it all comes down to your ability to twist and turn something that simple into an amazing story to read. And once it is all done, it depends on the types of people willing to read it!

  56. Protagonists do not have to be likeable at all. However, they have to attract some kind of interest from the reader. One of the most notorious protagonists in all of literature is the pedophile Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s brilliant novel “Lolita.” But he has an almost hypnotic magnetism and charisma that makes you want to listen to him. Evil characters are almost always more interesting than good guys.

  57. The advice I'd give is that your characters don't have to be good people to be likable characters if their written right. The Magnificent Bastard trope exists for a reason, and it's really popular in fiction of all medias. There's also the fact that even the most unlikable characters have traits the your readers can admire. Tywin Lannister was a massive dick, but he was also one of the shows most popular characters because he was just so fricken fun to watch.

  58. I don't know about protagonists who are unpleasant. For protagonists who are likeable, I recommend "Save The cat" either for screenplay's or book writing.

  59. They need to be entertaining to watch. If they aren't likeable that's fine but then I will need some actual reason to care about the conflict in their story.

  60. No, they do not have to be likable. They do have to be interesting. Do you mean likable as in nice? No, a main character does not have to be kind.

  61. Depends on how you write the story if you really wanna make a mystery don’t decide on one main character to multiple characters or tell the story from their point of you

  62. from my experience, they should be at least a little likable - there should be something about them that the reader wants to root for. hell, if you do it well enough, you could probably get away with making the reader just want karma to hit them in the face. that'd make me wanna keep reading, anyway. protagonists definitely do not have to be good people, you just need to write in a reason for the reader to want to keep following their story, good or bad.

  63. I don’t think so! The Hundred Secret Senses, by Amy Tan, is one of my all time favorite books, and the protagonist is really awful to her half-sister in it, to the point where she’s very unlikable. It’s a wonderful story, though!

  64. No, I hated pretty much everyone in the book Gone Girl and kept on reading hoping they'd all come to a sticky end..LOL Just make them interesting.

  65. No. I would argue that Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games was not likable, for example, but she was still an interesting and ‘good’ character

  66. So, your protagonist doesn't need to be likeable. But if you don't have any characters that are likable, many readers will struggle to care about your story. Because remember, you need stakes. If those stakes don't affect someone or something the reader cares about, then the reader won't care about them. This is easily solved with side characters. Many protagonists are considered boring, but the story is saved by engaging, likable side characters. There need to be someone to root for and to fear for. They don't need to be the main character.

  67. Why do you like them? I'm trying to keep that in my mind with my protagonists. After all, you are your own worst critic.

  68. People usually want to empathize or sympathize with main characters if they are going to be taken on a journey and care about what happens to them. People watch documentaries about horrible people, but in stories we hook into the main character so probably don't want to vicariously experience the story through someone horrible. There are probably successful stories where the protagonist is not likable, but not too many.

  69. If not likeable, shoot for sympathetic. If I don't like the character but I understand where they are conflicted, then I'm still reading.

  70. Re:Zero has you like then dislike, then hate, then like the MC. So no. Not all the time but in some way, they have to at least be liked to maintain interest as they have the most screen time. Audiences will drop the book if they don’t have something to like about them even if it is a respect usually reserved for villains.

  71. Well personally, I do not believe that protagonists have to be likable, even if you try to make them likable, there is always going to be someone who doesn't like them. Moreover, it helps a lot with your story if they have more character development

  72. I mean. I hated every single character in The Secret History by Donna Tartt (and consequently hated the book) but TONS of other people rave over that one so.

  73. I personally try to make protags annoying to the point where readers want to see them suffer in the story, only for them to have a turning point where they become not annoying. I try and fail most of the tines, but I am currently at a 2-5 win/lose stand point according to my friends. Does that help? Or am I just rambling-

  74. Chad Kultgen does this well (The Average American Male, The Lie). Off the top of my head, Bret Easton Ellis has a few, too. Aside from the obvious, American Psycho, Rules of Attraction comes to mind.

  75. Empathy without sympathy? Completely possible. Walter White is a great example. Starts of genuiniely likable, slowly becomes more corrupt and depraved and eventually crosses a line you can't come back from morally.

  76. I’ve personally never gone through a story of any kind where the protagonist wasn’t like able to some degree with the exception of the show “bojack horseman”. The dude is a terrible person, unlikeable to every degree, but the show was enjoyable. Likely because he was aware of his flaws and knew they were wrong and over the course of the show tries to fix them. And keeps messing up as he does so.

  77. One of the best Brazilian novels of the 19th century, Dom Casmurro, is written from the pov of the most despicable and hated characters in western literature. Book is amazing

  78. Not really in my opinion. I was reading The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas and I found the main character horrible and very unlikable but the story was interesting and it's fast paced so I kept reading despite the horrible protagonist.

  79. I wouldn't say they NEED to be likable, but more as understandable. Like Guts from Berserk is an amazing example. He is not a good guy or a hero. He's just a guy with a massive sword that will kill anyone who gets in his way. he just helps because the people around him want to and it could lead to him getting close to his goal.

  80. I think you should just write about the character and not worry about it, them being a horrible person makes it interesting because your showing their mentality.

  81. If your protag is unlikable, you better make their journey or their motives likeable. Ex: I've been watching Death Note a lot lately. I find Light to be extremely unlikeable, but I do understand his motives and the story interesting, so I put up with it. But if he was written slightly differently, it could ruin the entire thing.

  82. I raise you Eren Yeager, also very unlikable, and his motives aren't, but I thought after everything came to light, he was a fantastic protagonist

  83. Have you ever read Gone With The Wind? Scarlett sucks. She makes me so angry. She's a bully and mean and selfish and I'm here talking about her 86 years later. 😠

  84. Absolutely not. Check out Shadow Of The Conquerer by Shad Brookes (AKA Shadevirsity on Youtube). His Protagonist is a piece of shit but the story is still great!

  85. I like to read Star Wars prose novels. Not high literature to be sure but fun. One of the best ones I have read was from the point of view of the evil Sith master who brought the future Emperor Palpatine to the dark side. Darth Plagueis is definitely the protagonist of the book, but he is the furthest thing from likeable.

  86. The famous writer Joe Haldeman taught his students, “your protagonist doesn’t have to be likable, but they must be INTERESTING.”

  87. I don't think characters have to be likable, but they should be relatable. There needs to be a reason to champion the "bad guy" instead of the "good guy".

  88. They don't. That being said, the character MUST be interesting. For instance, if you're writing a prickly character, demonstrate how their terrible actions lead to their own terrible consequences. This will keep your readers interested, wondering what said character will do next.

  89. I would say that your protagonist to doesn’t have to be like able. They need to garner empathy. If your protagonist doesn’t connect with the audience on some level than they shouldn’t be your protagonist. Likable is the easiest solution.

  90. I find it kind of interesting if the character is a bad person. It doesn’t follow the cookie-cutter protagonist style. Also human beings exist in this duality every day. It makes me…think differently. To each their own I guess

  91. I'd say absolutely not. Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favourites and the protagonist is anything but likable in that!

  92. I think the protagonist has to be somewhat relatable to some aspect of the human experience. As you are a human and every thing you think and do is part of the human experience, you just cannot go wrong.

  93. I read a book before with a very dysfunctional family. I liked the way the story tied together, but I hated every single one of them.

  94. The character has to connect with the audience. Being likable doesn't automatically do that, but it's a pretty easy path to take. If your characters are scum, you probably want to give them some redeeming traits that most people can identify with.

  95. No, but as long as at least ten persons can relate to them in a positive light and they learn at least one thing by the end I think your pretty good to go. I have a protagonist named Annie, her only relatable trait is her curiosity, and she is basically a four year old personality wise. She isn’t likable but she still learns tons of positive things in the story.

  96. The protagonist doesn’t need to be likeable as a character/person, but they need to be interesting. Take the show Bojack Horseman for example, he’s a terrible person and even the fans hate him as a person, but they love how fleshed out he is as a character. That being said, it may be trickier to write an insanely flawed protagonist, but there really is no reason to why we shouldn’t dislike them.

  97. That latest Joker movie with Joaquin Phoenix is a good example? Joker is disturbed but just gotta love him for how interesting

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