The Millions, posted a guest essay by author Edan Lepucki entitled, “I Just Didn’t Like Her: Notes on Likability in Fiction.”
Lepucki takes a hard look at the issue by asking herself if she were a character in fiction...the real her...would people like her? Hammy
I loved this take on the issue because whether or not a reader has to LIKE the main character is one of the hardest things to decipher as we help leisure readers in a public library setting.
First, it is something that is MAKE or BREAK for many readers, but they may not even know that about themselves. Yes, I have helped people who don’t even realize liking the protagonist is the most important appeal factor, so asking them does not help you understand their preferences.
Second, even with seasoned veterans like myself, the likability of characters in fiction is toward the bottom of my initial questions list. I often have enough trouble getting a patron to tell me about a book they have recently enjoyed.
Third, even readers who HATE most books where the protagonist is unlikable, still once in a while like a book where the characters are despicable (see Gone Girl), but only that specific book, for a completely unrelated issue. [They want to keep us on our toes.]
It’s enough to drive even the most dedicated RA Librarian crazy.
So, all of you read Lepucki’s take on the issue. As an author, she has really thought about the issue, and her insights such as, she unintentionally made likable character AND the fact that no real person is 100% likable all the time, among others will help you to help readers better. At the very least, it will remind us work to gauge our patron’s tolerance for unlikability.
And, at the very least, it will give you some stock lines you can use to soothe an angry patron who wanted a likable protagonist, but didn’t know it, and you gave them something they hated!
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