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Make Your Protagonist Likable

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger on Jul 10, 2013 5:37:14 AM

The success of your story is weighted heavily toward one simple element: the likability of your protagonist. That's not to say the other elements of your story are unimportant. They matter, but they're meaningless if the character who's carrying your story is unlikable.


Likable does not mean nice or friendly or honest. Literature is chock-full of protagonists who haven't been particularly good people. If you knew them in real life, they might not even be the type you'd hang out with.


One of the best examples of this is Dexter Morgan, the forensic blood spatter pattern analyst and serial killer who first appeared in Jeff Lindsay's novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter in 2004 (Dexter later became a hit Showtime TV show, now in its final season). Who among us would want to spend some alone time with a true psychopath like Dexter? I certainly wouldn't. Sure, it would be interesting at first, but it would turn wholly terrifying when you're struck by the realization that you're spending time with a man who remorselessly kills other human beings.


But here's the interesting thing: Dexter is without a doubt likable. Why is that? Has Lindsay hypnotized us into thinking his psychopathic protagonist is likable when he's really not? Is part of his appeal that he satisfies his bloodlust by killing really bad people? No, I'd say Dexter is likable because he wants to be good, but he struggles with it. In his own twisted way, he wants to do the right thing even if it is untoward and disturbing.


To make a protagonist likable, even one who's not a model citizen, give him an inner conflict between serving a greater good and satisfying his own self-interest. That sacrifice your protagonist makes to forego his or her own selfish desires and indeed serve the greater good is what makes him or her likable.



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Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.


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