Likeable Main Characters

Whoof, that backlog ran out fast. Looks like I’m going to have to do a bit of writing in these next week or so to get myself back up.

Anyway, that’s not what you folks come here for (at least, I assume it’s not. If it is, that says a bit more about how much I apologise on this blog than I’d like it to). It’s only a quick post today, because it’s something I want to express but don’t have a lot to say about.

Lots of people, when writing, start talking about “heroes” and “villains”. It’s the language we’re raised on, after all. Then, we get older, we encounter our Lelouch Lamperouges and our Royce Melborns and our Loki Laufeysons, and we start to realise how inadequate those words are. Or perhaps more accurately, how much extra baggage they carry with them.

Then we start on “protagonists” and “antagonists” and in one sense, that’s very freeing because it reduces the need to make a value judgement on the personality of the people you’re talking about. But we do still need some basic things about a protagonist and antagonist to make it really work for the reader.

Be aware, I am personally a reader who kind of enjoys reading about unlikeable people. I liked the examination of Holden Caulfield’s mentality, even if I probably would have avoided him in real life. FitzChivalry Farseer is a whiny, unobservant little brat on occasion, but I still loved the Farseer trilogy (I make no bones of the fact that I read that series for Burrich, Molly, and the Fool). I even managed to find some room in my heart for Shinji Ikari, but that’s a topic for another day.

But I still think that a viewpoint character needs a few things. It’s hard to describe – they don’t need to be likeable (if the above wasn’t enough evidence, go to any fandom and search for fanfic of the most morally bankrupt character. Go ahead. I’ll wait.). They don’t need to be a “good person” in any way shape or form.

The word ‘sympathetic’ is often bandied about here, but I’m a little leery of it. Not because someone the audience follows for the whole book doesn’t need to be sympathetic, but because every major character should be sympathetic, in my opinion, including and especially the antagonists.

In the end, you get a laundry list of contradictory. Main characters should be just like normal people, except they need to be slightly better than normal in some way to make them admirable, except that they can also be worse than normal to show why they can do the things they do, except that they can’t be evil because the readers will hate them, except that readers love reading about villains because they’re enticing, except …

Honestly, in my opinion, the only thing a main character needs to be is natural. Whether you go for villainous hero, an antihero (traditional Greek or otherwise), a goody-two-shoes, whatever, they just need to read as realistic in the context of their story. And something for the readers to relate with. The easiest is a sense of humour, but there’s no reason why it can’t be an attitude towards a certain type of person, or something along those lines.

In the end, this is what betas are for. Get them to read and tell you what they thought of the main character.They’ll tell you if they can’t get into the main character.

What about you folks? What are your Must Haves for Good POV Characters?

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