How Likeable Do Characters Have To Be?

Sometimes, when reading, you may come to the dilemma that you just despise the main character.

Or, at the very least, very much dislike them.

And then you’re stuck with the problem of if you should DNF the book because you don’t want to handle the main protagonist annoying you, or if you should stick through it and read the change of their character.

Sometimes, sticking with it pays off. Other times it doesn’t.

So my question for readers is how do you decide when to DNF a book based off of an unlikeable character? And my question for writers is how do you find the balance of unlikeable but also keep from scaring your reader away?

For example, take Eldon from As You Wish. I adored this book and Eldon was a complete jerk. But he was a snarky jerk, and I liked reading about him and hoped he experienced character change in the book. And he did. And everything turned out absolutely fantastic for me.

But then, take Margot from The Education of Margot Sanchez. I found her to be annoying and snobbish throughout the whole book, and even at the end I felt like she didn’t change enough and ended up taking off from its rating because of this.

How do we find that balance between flawed and unlikeable and reader’s interest?

Sure, you can have flawed characters who aren’t unlikeable, but they do tend to be so much less interesting. And they’re still usually unlikeable to some people. And we all know that having flaws in a character is good and it adds to the character arc in the story, even if there are other things going on.

Take another example–the MC from The Black Witch, the controversial book published by Harlequin Teen for its racism. Sure, readers have said that by the end, the MC learned her lesson and wasn’t racist anymore, but is that enough to help readers?

This book is 600-something pages. 500 or so have the main character being a racist. The last 100 is said to be her redemption. Is this enough for a reader?

For me, it’s not. I stopped at around page 150 because it was just very unenjoyable to read. Sure, other readers who are more hardy than I may be able to make it all the way to page 600 and see how the MC has grown, but I am not one of those people.

It’s just too much for me to deal with characters that don’t show much growth or at the very least, hint at growth, throughout the story–especially if they’re from tropes I don’t like.

Eldon was a lot more manageable because of how he was snarky–and don’t we all love a little snark? People love reading snarky reviews more so than level headed reviews just because of the sheer entertainment value; I get it.

It seems that there needs to either be a clear suggestion of change or something unfortunately appealing about their bad quality to make a book with an unlikeable main character interesting.

And as to when to DNF the book, I guess I’ll have to look out for signs that change isn’t really happening–or I’ll just check the reviews.

What are your thoughts on what signs to suggest a DNF for an unlikeable character & how do you think authors can fix this?

much love, vicky


4 thoughts on “How Likeable Do Characters Have To Be?

  1. Ohhh I struggle with this a lot.

    I understand when you’re supposed to dislike the character and they are either going to experience change or experience poetic justice, then it’s definitely worth continuing. It’s when I get the impression from the narrative voice that I’m supposed to like a character (or at least be on a character’s side) when I’m not.

    So, for example, in The Left Hand of God, the MC is arrogant and I absolutely hated him, but the book sets him up to be the (somewhat unwilling) hero with the narrative repeating the idea that he is brilliant. On the other hand in Vertigo, the MC is unlikable – he’s possessive and selfish to give a couple of examples – but the book doesn’t try to glorify this.

    I find it really difficult to continue with a book where I hate the MC. Not sure if you can put a page number on it, but it definitely shouldn’t take 90% of the book before you see redemption!


    1. Ugh, yeah! Definitely when it’s not condoned I will like it more, but sometimes it just rubs me the wrong way and I just can’t handle the book and the character and need to DNF it :/


  2. I don’t have to like the character to like the book, however the character needs to be well developed, some of my favorite books have characters I really didn’t like, but they were so well developed that the book was fabulous….
    However annoying whiny female protagonists can drive me crazy, unless there is tremendous character growth I will finish the book but if it is part of a series I probably will not continue the series…

    Liked by 1 person

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