So a few people did my likeability exercise back in June. Not many, and not nearly enough for any of these to be scientifically rigorous conclusions (lol), but I’m gonna summarize some stuff anyway, because I’m in a posting and summarizing mood!
It seems that people are pretty consistent in their preferences. Most folks seemed to have a set of traits that really endeared them to a character, and most or all of the people on their list would have most or all of those traits. However, the set of traits was completely different for each person, and was heavily based in their own values.
Likeability contained an element of moral approval for some people, but not others. Some people’s preferences changed slightly based on a character’s gender, but others didn’t change at all, and even for the former group, there was considerable overlap.
So it seems that likeability isn’t objective – there’s no one formula to make everybody like one character – but it’s also not completely arbitrary and meaningless. Instead, it’s a question of what appeals to an individual reader.
Oddly, I found that I had more of a double standard / change in preferences between genders than anybody else who dared to do the exercise. I also had more difficulty doing the exercise than I thought I would. Neither of these was what I expected!
If you’re curious, here are my answers:
This part was easy, and I just wrote down the first / biggest three that came to mind out of many runner-ups:
- Miles Vorkosigan
- [A player-turned-recurring-villain from a D&D game I used to play in – anybody who’s done an RPG with me or talked about large projects with me recently will probably know who I’m talking about.]
- Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston
Shared traits, between these and nearly all of the runner-ups: Extremely clever, quick-thinking, charismatic, unconventional, a bit devious, and larger-than-life.
There seems to be no real moral component here, as I have heroes, villains, and morally-ambiguous antiheroes (O HAI, Vlad Taltos) crowding up this runner-up list with about equal aplomb.
This part was way, WAY harder than the male characters, and I have no idea why… As before, there was a sizeable runner-up list, but with the male list, the runner-ups were like “Oh yeah, I like him, too.” With this one, it was more like, “Could she go on the list? Should she go on the list? MAYBE ALMOST she goes on the list but I am not sure and not happy about this and I’m not sure why I’m unhappy or feel reluctant/awkward? I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS LIST. I thought I PREFERRED books/shows with female characters, what even IS this.”
Anyway, after a lot of confusion, the actual list ended up like this:
- Melinda May (from “Agents of SHIELD”)
- Adelle DeWitt (from “Dollhouse”)
- Granny Weatherwax (from the Discworld novels)
So clearly this is different from the other list? Hyper-competence is still an aspect, but it’s defined more broadly, and there’s also this aloof, closed-off, unfriendly quality which is suddenly all over the place.
(It also seems like the opposite of the male list, personality-wise, except it isn’t quite. It’s possible to have the aloofness and the showoffy unconventional-thinking-charisma at the same time – Benedict Cumberbatch’s character on “Sherlock” comes to mind – although it is not typical.)
(Also, speaking of “Agents of SHIELD”, I belatedly noticed that Skye fits all of my “male character” criteria at least to some degree, though not as flamboyantly as some and with a degree of inexperience. I quite like Skye; she’s on my female runner-up list. Despite the fact that half of the fandom apparently hates her? And I don’t know what’s up with that, either?)
Anyway, so apparently I just have WAY more internalized sexism than all of the rest of you for some reason. And I’ve had enough crushes on girls that I can’t even blame heterosexuality… I have no idea at all.
If this doesn’t scare you away, you can still do the exercise for yourself here.