Story Stuff: L is For Likable vs Livable

 

by Allison Maruska

Sometimes I hear gripes from critique partners or beta readers that one of my characters isn’t likable (I won’t say which characters because I don’t want to poison the well, in case any of you want to read my stuff). After making sure I haven’t created an unnecessary asshole, I ask myself this question – does the character have to be likable? Or just livable?

The author of this post suggests the main character has to be likable. I agree for the most part, but no character is going to be perfect (in fact, inadvertently writing perfect characters is common warning for new writers). Imperfections can be a delicious source of conflict in our narrative worlds. So what happens if the imperfections tip the scales away from “likable”?

Have you ever had an obnoxious coworker? Not one who made your life a living hell, but one who just grated at your nerves. Maybe they played bad music or laughed loudly at everything or reheated fish in the community microwave. You might have even casually discussed hanging out sometime, but of course you don’t try to make that happen.

That coworker would be categorized as “livable.” You’re certainly not going out of your way to spend time with him, but positive elements of the job – probably other, more likable coworkers – make putting up with his annoying habits possible.

Jurassic World came out a couple of years ago, and while I enjoyed the movie overall, there was one protagonist that irritated the hell out of me…

I found Claire to be ridiculous for the entire movie. For someone who ran a dinosaur island, she was super dumb (that’s like regular dumb only there’s a cape…) about dinosaurs and nature and would have died a few times if not for Owen.

I can’t say that would have broken my heart.

So why did I stick with the movie until the end? I didn’t see it until it was out on blu-ray, so I could have simply turned it off.

It came down to the rest of the movie – Chris Pratt was great, the dinosaurs were well-created, and I didn’t really want the kids to die (as they were far less ridiculous than their Aunt Claire). I tolerated Claire because the good stuff carried her through. I just had to live with her for a couple of hours.

So maybe our protags don’t always have to be likable, just livable – as long as the story and other characters can pick up the slack.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.

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8 thoughts on “Story Stuff: L is For Likable vs Livable”

  1. I absolutely agree. Livable is all you need. In fact (although this is a personal preference), I prefer characters that are livable over straight away likable any day. The story has to work harder to win me over, but I always end up enjoying those stories more in the end.

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  2. Sometimes we lose v to hate someone. I think this probably happens in books and movies more than RL because we don’t actually have to deal with them. Lol. But there still has to be something essentially true or enduring or endearing about them that makes us accept the character as existing out of necessity. And, yes, cpnflictand resolution.

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    1. I completely agree, and I hope that a lot of other people do too – since the main character in my upcoming novel is most definitely *not* particularly likable. 😀

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  3. I don’t believe that all of the characters have to be likeable because that’s more like real life. Of course it would help if you like them all. Now if you don’t like any of them, you probably won’t finish the book.

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  4. I couldn’t agree more. I read ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt a while back, and I honestly didn’t like any of the characters. They were snobby, judgemental and, overall, awful people. But it was a great read. I was sucked into their lives and the characters didn’t have to be likeable to be interesting. Sometimes the appalling characters are the most fun to read about. And the liveable ones are more true to life.

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