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?

Many critics say a 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.


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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.




This guest post was 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.