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Prickly, yet pleasing: Make your characters likable

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It’s not uncommon for authors to try to make characters original in ways that most people hadn’t thought of. “I want my protagonist to be a cynical of the type of story they’re in,” perhaps. Or “I want her to be a sociopath who doesn’t empathize with others and has no moral code,” or “I want him to suffer from a terminal disease.”

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Flickr: Sterling College

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And that’s all well and good, but it’s also not uncommon for authors to forget one vital fact of writing a story: The reader needs to like the protagonist.

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I am not suggesting that a writer should not try out different types of protagonists, people who differ from the norm or who challenge the status quo somehow. No, in order for literature to remain fresh, this must happen. There is a misconception that suggests that for a character or story to be successful, the character must identifiable to the audience. This isn’t true at all. The concept that readers can’t identify with a protagonist who isn’t like them is pure poppycock.

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But, the protagonist must be likable in some way. There is no requirement that fictional characters be nice people, or that they be saints, but the reader must not hate the main character of the story. And for that to work, it means making some part of their conflicts identifiable.

For many writers the cop-out is to make the antagonist someone or something, like an oppressive society, hoping that readers cannot help but sympathize with the protagonist, not realizing that we can take another option and simply dislike them both.

This doesn’t work. If a reader doesn’t care what happens to the protagonist, they have no reason to keep reading. There’s nothing wrong with a sociopathic character, but if every aspect of his or her personality is belittling to everyone and everything around him or her, you can bet that your readers will have trouble connecting with that character.

Eduardo A. Hernández-Cruz is a writer at EducatedWriter.com. He has worked as a writer for Clemson University, and some of his work can be found here.

Eduardo A. Hernandez-Cruz

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