the “likeability” trap

 

My dear storyteller, I hope no one has said this to you, but if you’ve heard it, please console yourself with the knowledge that you’re not alone. Buckle up and let’s get it over with:

“I just didn’t care about your main character. You need to make her more likeable. More relatable!”

Bah, humbug! I had to say it. Yet how many earnest writers have heard this all-too-common bit of feedback, licked their wounds for a minute, and then bravely proceeded to revise their draft to remove every character defect, cross word, and unpleasant facial expression from the manuscript?

Then, after all traces of humanity have been stripped out, the poor writer who’s fallen into the “likeability trap” throws in a saving-kittens-from-the-floodwaters scene for good measure, and perhaps adds a charming dollop of self-doubt and dorkiness to amp up the relatability factor.

Aw, this main character’s klutzy and has no fashion sense! And she’s nice to animals! What’s not to like and relate to?

I feel snarky and unlikeable just thinking about this simp of a hero. Meanwhile, Ebenezer Scrooge remains one of the most indelible (and dare I say, beloved) characters in all of literature.

Let’s get rid of this likeability humbug once and for all and talk about what really makes a character unforgettable. May the storytelling gods bless us, every one!


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