Thursday, 26 April 2012

Caitlin Considers: Likability

Hello! Caitlin Considers is my fortnightly discussion/rant post, and this time we're looking at likability. This was totally supposed to be posted yesterday, but I lacked INSPIRATION so you're getting it today and you're just gonna have to deal with that.

Pretty much every review talks about the likability of characters, and this is usually seen in fairly black and white terms. The character was likable, this is a good thing. The character wasn't likable, this is a bad thing.

But what makes characters likable? Personality traits, how they deal with the situations they're in, how they treat those around them? Sometimes characters that shouldn't be likable are, and sometimes the reverse happens. A lot of the time, some of us will LOVE a character and some of us will hate them. Prime examples are love triangles, we all pick teams. But what makes us choose one, prefer one, over the other, how much of that is down to the inherent qualities of the character and how much of it is down to us, down to our preferences and experiences and interpretations?

I want to talk about Katniss Everdeen. I think she inspires (some) contention in terms of how likable she is. She resents her mother, she loves only a few of the people around her, she's manipulative, very, very cynical, sorta indecisive and ultimately afraid of intimacy. She probably shouldn't be very likable, but she is. She's brave and determined and loyal. She would do anything for sister, and for the others who have gained her trust. Her good qualities often outweigh her bad, her good decisions offset the mistakes. And really, this is how it is with real people. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes.It's easy to judge the characters we read about because we're impartial, separate. We can look at the big picture and we can see what they should've done, should've said, should've known. But I think it is this realism that makes us love Katniss and others like her. It's the idea that this person, flaws and all, could exist.

There's another type of likable character, the fairly bland one. A great deal of YA heroines fall into this category and they exist as a vessel, a means of visualising ourselves into a story. When we read about them, we don't see a character; we see a situation, a love interest. These heroines are a bizarre mix of unremarkable and remarkable. They're average, but everyone loves them. They're weak but strong, selfish but brave, they're independent, but reliant on those around them. They're likable because they're almost a negation of themselves. They could be anyone and everyone. But whilst they seem superficially likable, if you investigate them further, it's easy to turn on them. I tend to feel fairly ambiguous towards these characters. I understand their purpose, but I don't like them. I respect people's right to think they're awesome, but I wish they wouldn't.

Then there's the other characters; the ones we shouldn't like but do. The bad boys, the villains, the ambiguous characters. The Will Herondales, Valentine Morgensterns and Severus Snapes of the world. They aren't really good, or nice, sometimes they're not very brave and sometimes they're downright abhorrent. But we love them anyway. In spite of, and sometimes because of their flaws. We justify their actions, rationalise their thought processes. We like them when maybe we shouldn't.

Personally, I'd say I like the characters with stronger personalities. I like them to not be a cliche, to have flaws and bad judgement, to make mistakes. I like it when I go on a journey with a character, when I start off disliking them and grow to love them, to root for them, to want them to succeed.I like characters that feel as though they could walk off a page, that they're an entity in their own right and not a creation of someone else's imagination. I don't want perfection, or ideals, or wish-fulfilment. Even if I don't like them as a person, I still like the fact they exist for me to not like, you know?

What do you think? Are there certain types of characters you just can't tolerate, certain types you will always like? Do you evaluate every character on their own merit? If you don't like someone immediately, is that it or do you change your mind? Do you pretty much fundamentally disagree with everything I just said?

Characters I love:

Magnus Bane from TMI&TID/Anya Balanchine from All These Things I've Done/Cole St. Clair from The Wolves of Mercy Falls/Tris Prior from Divergent/Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games/Nick Ryves from The Demon's Lexicon/Isobel Culpepper from The Wolves of Mercy Falls/Christian Ozera from Vampire Academy/Dru Anderson from Strange Angels

Characters I didn't like at first but grew on me:

Mae and Jamie from The Demon's Lexicon/Puck from The Scorpio Races/Graves from Strange Angels/Clary Fray from TMI/Tod Hudson from Soul Screamers/Elena Gilbert from The Vampire Diaries/Keenan from Wicked Lovely

Wow this ended up pretty long and fairly convoluted...kudos to you if you read the whole thing!


  1. I'm with you about the stronger personalities. I hate the characters that are so passive that it's like you're just inserting into their world and they're not actually do anything themselves. I feel like that's a sign of bad writing--like we all use our imaginations to put ourselves into the stories we read, but those characters seem to require a more active imagination vs. an effortless one... as what happens with the characters who you feel like are right next to you because their personalities are so real. And to me, the process of reading should be effortless, should feel like you're there the whole time and not because you've made yourself there. I don't know if that makes any sense or not...

    There a few character types I'm starting to get sick of / it's harder for me to tolerate - the arrogant romantic interest and the passive female protagonist. Used way too often. (You got any types that you don't want to see anymore?)

    I think it's harder to change your mind about a character you thought you disliked, but I'm not averse to changing my opinion about him/her.

    1. I basically hate anything too cliche. The bad boy can be done well, and it can be done badly. As long as they're well developed and interesting I'm happy! I actually really like it when I change my mind about them...I feel like we've gone on a little journey that way and reconciled our differences! Passive Females are pretty much always negatives for me, though.

  2. I don;t really like Christian from VA! But Dimitri is possibly my favourite male character of all time :)

    Brilliant post! I like cynical characters, (although not if they go too far) because they make a book funny, but most importantly, I can relate to them because I'm quite cynical! Usually I love strong heroines, but sometimes there's a weak, but so lovely main girl, and I shouldn't but do really like her! And I'm a real sucker for loving the bad guy :) He/she is so evil and everybody hates them, but I'm just there! :)

    1. I like cynical characters too =] Surprised you don't like Christian then; he's quite cynical!! I like him much more than Dimitri if I'm honest :P I don't always mind the weak ones, I think that not everyone can be strong all the time, that's too unrealistic. I'm more against the passive ones, you know? Haha bad guys are always cool! You have excellent taste Cliona ;)


    A great deal of YA heroines fall into this category and they exist as a vessel, a means of visualising ourselves into a story.

    And Amen! I always talk about this in my reviews- how in the vast majority of cases female characters are soooooo underdeveloped when compared to their male counterparts (physically, emotionally, and mentally- I don't know about you, but I can describe all of the different colour variations in Jace's and Marc's (from Rachel Vincents Shifters series) eyes because I have HEARD SO MUCH ABOUT THEM.

    And yes! <3 Dru, Magnus, Tris, and Cole!

    1. I know, I really hate underdeveloped females. I think that's why I love so many secondary male characters more than their female counterparts, which is a shame. Dru Magnus Tris and Cole are some of my favourites EVER <3

  4. Hmmm, now I'm really thinking what exactly makes me like a character. Sarcasm is usually number one for me. If a character is sarcastic I'll like them...usually. I hated Jace and, yes, he was sarcastic. I think they have to be sarcastic but not arrogant. Which brings me to my number two requirement: Humility. I love a humble character, who's not perfect and knows it. Yeah, now I'm going to be thinking about this for days!

  5. I think I like characters that have depth. It doesn't matter whether they are the good guys or the bad guys to me. A character who seems more realistic really pull me in. I can't stand whiny wimpy female MC's. I mean yes, I know that a lot of females are weak and whiny, but when I am reading a book, I want the MC to not be annoying. Even "average" is okay as long as there is personality. Whether they are male, female, not human, primary, or secondary characters, I need to be able to somehow connect with them. Character development is super important to me.

  6. Love this post <3. You pretty much know my tastes already. I really don't like perfect or preachy characters, because I just cannot relate to them at all. I need characters to have flaws, because it makes them realistic. That being said, I also really dislike weak, flaky, annoying characters with no backbone who just blindly follow what they're told. And characters that cry every five seconds too.

    I love sarcastic, cynical, fierce, determined characters! And I don't mind if they're sometimes bordering on immoral (Nick <3). Just as long as they have a strong personality and don't just sit all meek in the background letting other people decide everything for them.

  7. I envy your ability to be so eloquent and well-spoken, Cait :) LOVE this post - so insightful!

    I don't know if there's really a specific type of character that jumps out at me but I like unique, distinct personalities. I want to be able to say, "okay, yeah... this character would totally be for/against that."

    Actually, I lied. I do like a certain type of character. I like for my heroes/heroines to be inherently GOOD which may seem kind of redundant, I guess, considering what a "hero" should be by definition. Do you know what I mean when I say that some just have that driving force in them to do what they think is right? I'm not necessarily saying that I have to agree with their decision but I want them to be secure in their choices and not just wishy-washy about it. Struggling to come up with an answer is fine but wavering once you've already commit is annoying. And yes, I realize I totally just turned that into something else entirely :)

    SO WITH YOU on Magnus, Tris, Nick, Katniss and Christian. I'm not as big on Nick as you and Liz (ALAN ROCKS) but I still really liked his character! Jamie GREW on you? :P Like, you preferred him in the last book than the first one? I really, really, reaaaaaally loved Jamie in the beginning of the series and then his character (realistically! but still) unravelled to a point where I was like, "who are you"? I didn't dislike him at the end (MY POOR JAMIE) but I think I was more shocked than anything else.

    Great post, Cait! :) I am loving this feature! <3


    1. Have to reply just to say that I agree with you on Jamie. I loved him so much in 1 and 2 but in 3 it was just all o_O. The humour was gone, and I think I missed that the most.

      Also, Alan sucks in comparison to Nick :P.

    2. Totes disagree with you guys. Jame was annoying in first half of first book then epically awesome for the rest. In thr 3rd, he was just a bit more grown up, had more responsibility PLUS you didn't see as much of him. Obvs he couldn't be funny all the time, he was all double agent-y. But I can't believe you like Alan, Sonia. Not sure we can be friends anymore ;)

  8. I've never properly thought about what makes a character likeable...from what I've thought about it, I agree with everything you say. For me, sarcasm is a good thing, and a witty/dark sense of humour. Really really great post!

  9. I really loved this post. I love characters that manage to change my mind about them Snape is one of my all time favourite characters because he's so complex and real. I have this thing where the characters I like are because they feel very real to me and have traits I would like in myself like say Katniss and Rose from Vampire Academy for example. Then there are the one's who I know I would personally get on with if they were real people like Evie from Paranormalacy and Simon from The Mortal Instruments. I think it's interesting how readers choose which characters become their favourites and you've covered the different types of characters and their likability well.

  10. "Caitlin Considers" makes you sound so smart and mature and yeah.

    *reads your post*

    Okay, so maybe you ARE smart and mature and yeah. You seriously nailed this. On Katniss, absolutely. She's not exactly rainbows and butterflies, but rainbows and butterflies are boring. She's real, she's flawed and she has fire and strength and a whole lotta love for those she actually cares about him <3

    I TOTALLY get your point about the YA heroines that exist as a vessel. A lot of the time, I often get swept up in the story and weirdly don't even consider the protagonist, I USE them as a vessel to everything around them. But I want more than stand out - more like Katniss, Rose, Anna, etc - who are defined and not just a channel to get to an awesome plot and side characters.

    Okay, I'm typing most of this AS I read your post (I have a really bad habit of typing in the url bar so I can keep scrolling a post haha), but now I see your list of characters you love. I love that you mention Cole and Isobel too! And CHRISTIAN! I love that boy, oh do I ever. And Adrian, obviously. I love that he's kind of a screw up and is so not the kind of guy I'd dream of going near in real life (what with the smoking, drinking and sexing it up with party girls) but god, Richelle layers him and gives us a peek at his vulnerabitilies and holy hell, why isn't The Golden Lily here yet?

    Okay, I'm rambling. To sum it up: You are smart. This post rocks. Well freaking done.


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