Writing Tips

Likeable vs Relatable

I don’t know about you, but I always seem to get the same feedback on my writing: your character isn’t likeable. I’ve started to detest that word. Likeable. What is likeable anyway? Someone who has no opinions? Someone who’s nice to everyone? Charming? Suave? Friendly?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those traits, but I find reading about those people to be pretty boring. They don’t create any sort of conflict (which I guess, is what the plot is supposed to do?). Even the nicest character, though, thrown into a chaotic situation won’t be so nice and you may not like what they do. I’ve opted instead to aim for ‘relatable’ characters.

Of course, relatable characters come with their own set of problems. What’s relatable to one person is not relatable to another. They say characters inherit your neuroses, which is probably true. What I find relatable, then, may be too extreme for the average reader. So what does that mean? What’s relatable? It’s finding something you can identify with, a realistic reason for the things the character does and says, a way to sympathize or at least emphasize. If you can understand why, you can relate. The character doesn’t have to be friendly or likeable or even nice. I’ve read lots of YA where the MC is a blank slate and I’m so bored. I’d rather hate her than feel nothing at all.

The trick, I guess, is not to make people hate your character. Readers don’t keep reading if they can’t stand a character, but they will keep going if they understand. If they see why and go, “Oh, I get it,” they will push through (I’m being general here. Some readers don’t push through anything, but you can’t win every battle). My characters tend toward certain characteristics that most people find annoying, but that’s simply who the character is. You can’t expect them all to be plucky go-getters because the large majority of people aren’t like that. They’re more complex. The problem is showing the complexities so people don’t just write them off as annoying and move on.

You might not have this problem, but it’s one I continue to struggle with. Nobody’s perfect, especially my characters.

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