A Ramble on Character Likability

It’s been a while since I’ve put any opinions or advice on writing on here. And recently on the OYAN forum, a friend asked a few very thought provoking questions regarding my favorite topic, characters. And I basically wrote an article in response. So why not share it here too? xD

(@any oyaners following me just…. shush. pretend you didn’t see this before.)


So to the first question. Asking what makes me like a character and what determines them as a favorite. Honestly, I have a bunch of different character types that I’ve consistently started to like right off the bat. Which can pretty well be categorized into the Wolfgang-types, the Dallas-types and the Bad-News-types. Cocky, loudmouthed characters who rush into things headlong…. quiet, polite, nice types…. and the seemingly intimidating ones who actually turn out to be big softies. 


Usually those are…. pretty different? But recently I think I boiled down to a core element that always gets me and ties all my favorites in these categories together. (-gameshow lights- what do Wyatt Logan, Leo Fitz, Horatio Hornblower and Ethan Hunt have in common? xD)




It might not always be something the characters do without fail, but if they’re putting themselves on the line for other people and putting someone – or everyone – else’s needs before their own. (Or even more heartbreaking, just thinking that everyone is worth more as a human being than they are.)


I mean just thinking back to one of the last books I read. The second Artemis Fowl book. I mean I was…. kind of liking everyone. there were good characters, yes and I was fond of them. 

But it wasn’t until they’re in a split second moment of danger and Butler is a total rockstar and he saves literally everyone except himself from getting hurt. Dude, I knew who my favorite character was in that exact moment. 

Everyone else was cool. But no one even came close to being that selfless.


Character arcs tying into a character learning to be selfless are also good. Sometimes even better.


And sometimes tying in to that is characters with low self esteem issues that don’t come to the front right away. But that’s like…. the instant-rosey-adoption button, when a character goes “yeah i’m not worth anything. I’m just trash.” It’s like I have to make up for them not loving themselves by loving them more. xD


And then there are a lot of other factors that make me like them.

– Optimism…. true actual optimism is a really rare trait I actually don’t see a lot, but when it shows up it’s really beautiful. Fake Optimism is when the character is just believing the best will happen out of stupidity or ignorance. True Optimism is when they fully know the odds and they know it’s going to be reeeaally hard, but they chose to face it with a smile on their face, saying that everything’s going to be alright and truly believing it and planning to do everything in their power to make it that way. (Even better being combined with selflessness that they’re being optimistic not only because it’s in their nature, but because everyone else in the team needs encouragement.)

– Saying what everyone else is thinking. Okay this trait alone doesn’t make me love a character, but well timed comments are one of the greatest joys of my life and the character that’s making them is winning at least a few points with me.

– Actually having some really legitimate problems they’re dealing with and getting past… and like just trying really hard to be a good person in spite of it? Even if it’s some past problems. past trauma. past addictions or issues. just someone who has regrets and isn’t sobbing them out to everyone who will listen. But they’re letting getting away from that serve as more motivation to be a better person and just the real struggle it takes them to be good? (idk, that was very rambly. xD In general just flawed characters who are working to overcome their flaws)

– Smart and capable…. never hurts. it’s always nice to have a character who can do cool stuff. (though I love a lot of idiots…. every character has to be good at something)

– Having definite likes and dislikes of certain things. it makes them seem that much more human. I mean, just if it’s something small like the fact that they really like that one hat or jacket or favorite food…. or really hate peanut butter or coffee. Teeny character handles are endearing. 



Now, on to what makes me really not like a character.

See this is going to be a little harder since I don’t dwell on that as much. xD

But in general….

– Selfishness. pretty obvious as the opposite of what makes me like characters. But just not thinking of other people and consistently thinking they’re worth more than everyone else. (Not necessarily a dealbreaker as long as it’s built into a character arc or at least admitted as being a problem? It’s probably the worst when one of a main cast is super selfish and it’s always just “eh that’s how they are” and tried to be treated as an endearing thing. like… no.)

– Cruelty. Just nope.

– A bad sense of humor. of course this is subjective, but…. man, if a character’s sense of humor grates on my nerves there’s no way I’m liking them. (Whereas it goes the other way as well and if I like their jokes, I’m a complete sucker for that character.)

– Refusal to take responsibility for their actions/blaming other people for what they do. (There are a few things I like about Grant Ward, but this is probably the worst thing about him.)

– As far as bad writing goes, I really don’t like characters who just are there to fill a very very obvious role and everyone can see that. like “ah, here we have the Comic ReliefTM and the Supportive AllyTM and the Wise MentorTM” And they just don’t seem to have any lives/hopes/dreams/personality outside of whatever it is they need to do in the story? That really bugs me.


I feel like there’s more I don’t like and i’m blanking.


I just keep coming up with these character flaws and going “well, I don’t like that….” and then realizing some character that I really love has that as a flaw.

SO THIS SHOULD BE ENCOURAGING TO YOU PEOPLE. Almost any character trait can be worked into a character arc well and doesn’t doom your character. Usually it just helps to have it pointed out as the flaw that it is. (Just so it’s like “yes, this character is a liar/a judgemental person/a distrustful jerk, but it’s a problem and not an element that’s glorified as something to be eminated. I mean just think of Sherlock at the beginning of the show. That man is chock full of horrible flaws and he still comes around and that progress is just what makes him a loveable character.)



And how do I develop characters?

Well well well it’s…. different a lot of the time.


What worked really really well for me with my Blank Mastermind characters before I rewrote the book was actually sitting down with a notebook and writing out basically what their life had been up to that point in the story? Even if it’s boring. I mean, I had some minor characters that took up like half a page. but when you know things like “Bad News dropped out of school to take care of his mom” or “Dallas has a brother in the army” or “Charles was raised by his grandparents”…. a lot of things just click into place. And it seems like you’re working with these living, dynamic people not just playing with paper dolls. 


Try and just find out as much as you can about these characters.


And never ever ever stop asking “why?”


Well, Wolfgang just likes classical music, has a falcon and a leather jacket and a creepy name. He’s just like that.

I’ll admit I literally threw all that stuff at him just to make him seem more evil and had absolutely no backstory planned for any of those elements. but when you ask why and look into all the character quirks, you can really come up with some fascinating depth.


Actually, for what my opinion’s worth, I’d 100% recommend throwing crazy random quirks at your characters with no backstory planned, then figure it out later. sometimes the character even brings it to light by themselves and that’s fun. xD



AAAND FINALLY I’m just gonna sum up the last point really quickly. 

What makes a well made character in my opinion?

Honestly, just the simple element that I am able to understand them. Even if I don’t agree with them, I see where they’re coming from. I could look at that character and go “okay well I could see how someone in that circumstance would decide to do that”

While I don’t necessarily identify myself as a Flash fan anymore (curse you season 3), the season 1 villain is probably one that I always think back to as having been really well done on this front.

I hate him. He was so horrible and he killed characters that I loved and did awful things.

But I understand him. I see where he’s coming from, even though he’s a twisted murderer, I can at least see the logic behind what he’s doing.


Just know you’re doing really well if you get me to explode with “wHY would they do that?? I mean… well…. okay I know why because it’s obvious and because of the way they are and the situation. clearly they would do that, but still whyy” xD




Thank you for coming to Random Character Rambles with Rosey


So what are your guys’s thoughts on characters? What makes you like/dislike a character? How do you develop them?

Please comment!


9 thoughts on “A Ramble on Character Likability

  1. Whaaahahahahaha YES, all that. Definitely. Especially on the selflessness front. I tend to like characters who get physically hurt, too, which I won’t bother explaining ’cause I know you get it. XD As long as they’re not being whiny and wimpy about it. But no sickening fake bravery either. Just un-sickening fake bravery.

    But yeah, all your points, you pretty much nailed it. Anything can go AS LONG AS IT’S being portrayed in the right light/characters are trying to work through it. For every push der must be a pull.

    1. It’s really cool too because selflessness can apply to so many different character types? It’s neat.
      -cough- yes, stupid characters who go and selflessly get themselves hurt. A bit of a guilty like there. -puts hand over heart-

  2. The biggest character turnoff for me is not taking responsibility for their actions, but at the same time a huge character turn on for me is being willing to take responsibility not just for their actions but to take responsibility for other people’s actions too. Like even if it wasn’t their decision they’re ready to take blame for in part causing it, or to help fix it. That’s a big one.

  3. Love love love all of this and heartily agree!! I can’t think of any other points (but as soon as I send this I’ll think of a bunch, haha), so bravo and jolly good show!

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