Likeability: An Exercise

So, my non-writing life has been pretty unbelievable lately, but I Aten’t Dead. And I’m finding myself still fascinated with this topic, despite myself.

During our last discussion, people brought up a wide variety of issues related to character likability, including the impact of a character’s sexual and romantic orientation, and the difference between genre and literary fiction in approaches to characters, plus a whole whack of “Wait, but what does this ‘likeability’ thing actually mean, anyway? Does it mean ANYTHING?'”

Meanwhile, Silvia Moreno-Garcia linked me to this post from Overthinking It. A post doing actual research in likeability, you guys! I highly recommend it, and it’s spurred me to (belatedly) construct some informal research of my own, which covers a few questions that the Overthinking It article may have missed… Although, when I say “informal”, I mean really informal. As in, this would never pass peer-review EVER, ANYWHERE, and the fact that you guys are a biased sample is only the first of its many problems in that regard.

Still, I’m curious.


Ada’s Totally Informal Likeability Exercise

If you’d like to participate, please do this on your own, before looking at anyone else’s answers. No cheating!

For the purpose of this exercise, characters that you “like” are the characters that you get excited to read about. You’re more likely to pick up a book (/movie/whatever) if it has one of these characters, vs. other work by the same author. You enjoy scenes more when these characters have something to do in them. You don’t necessarily have to have any other beliefs about the characters, such as a belief that they are good people (though you can if you want to).

Got that? Let’s begin…

1. Quick! Write down your 3 favorite male characters. (It doesn’t have to be exactly 3; 2 to 5 is a good range. Don’t stress about getting The Very Best Ones Ever, either; just write down the ones that come quickly to mind.)

2. Now! Quick! Write down your 3 favorite female characters, in a similar manner.

3. (If you have favorite genderqueer/nonbinary characters, or characters who don’t otherwise belong on a binary list of “male” and “female” characters, please list them here as well. I’m not making this a strict requirement since there tend to be relatively few such characters, but if you want to list any, please do.)

4. For each character on the lists you just made, write down 3 things about them that make them your favorites. Again, don’t stress; go with what comes to mind first.

5. Look at your lists. Can you see commonalities between all of the characters you just wrote down, or are they all completely different from each other? A commonality could be a specific character trait (they’re clever, funny, vulnerable, tough) or something much more “meta”. Are the things you enjoy about your favorite male characters different from the things you enjoy about your favorite female characters? Do you see any other patterns?

6. If your favorite characters (or favorite male/female characters, etc) all have something in common, can you think of a character who also has that trait, but whom you dislike? Why?

7. Comment and share your answers, and let’s see what we’ve learned!