What makes a likable character?

I have played many games and read many books, what tends to irk me is stories that depend on me liking a character that I hate. Prior to me starting to write my IF, I would say never make the story depend on the audience liking a character; but now I think there is a little more wiggle room than I originally thought. My goal is to find out how to write a complex character people can like but isn’t exactly a saint.

I made a little list of my observations and welcome anyone to share their thoughts. :blue_heart:

[Ex. Life Is Strange] A good example of stories that depend on audiences liking a character that tends to be hated is Chloe, I hated her character because I had a toxic friend like her and so like 70% of the plot had me so un-engaged with the story. She manipulates, guilt trips, and forces the MC to do bad things they don’t want to just because she does. I really don’t know why the devs centered the story around majority of audiences to like such an unlikable character. She’s an example of what not to do, in my opinion at least.

[Ex. TellTale’s The Walking Dead] I think Telltale did such a good job of ensuring audiences liked
Clem and were invested in what happened to her. I think people tend to like dependent non-problematic kids in general because they set off our parental instincts, Clem was a very sweet little girl who NEEDED Lee/audiences to protect her or she would definitely die. While she made dumb decisions sometimes, it was never her intention to do harm. Which I think is a very powerful factor whether people like a character or not. Unless a kid is annoying or intentionally hinders the player (ex. Tennessee or arguably Ben), than they are almost a 100% safe bet in motivating an audience to like them.

[Ex. DC Comics] I am a huge comic nerd and think there is a few good characters that have interesting effects on audiences for different reasons. A major one I would say is Harley Quinn (Original harley, not the her newer stuff). I think she is so likable despite doing horrible things and constantly going back to her abuser, is because she is a victim. I believe there is a range in where people can forgive and even like a character if they sympathize with them. Even more so when they can see the abuser and thus put the blame of water the victim is doing unto the abuser. So Harley could torture a good man but he don’t hate her because she’s doing it on behalf of Joker, we can put the blame rightfully on Joker and not her.

[Ex. Arcane] Arcane’s villain Silco was rather liked despite his vicious nature because I think people could place themselves in his shoes and also be upset at the suffering of the people who lived underground. We are shown the horrible conditions, deaths, and injustice that exist towards those people; and so we can relate to Silco’s want to emancipate the people and become independent of the people who take advantage of them. (Bonus points for him loving and practically adopting Jinx, seeing a soft side to a harded character tends to do wonders for most people.)

[Ex. Naruto] Itachi I think paints the picture of people falling hard for characters that can do bad things but for a greater hidden purpose. Them doing things because they have to and not because they want to is a easy way of making a twist likable character I think. But it can admirably fall flat if not presented in a smart way, I can’t remember what show I saw this in but they pulled a twist sympathetic character so late into the action that it had me questioning if they really had no choice or if they were just doing what was easier for them.

So in summary: Dependency, Sympathy, Relatability, Intentions, Soft sides, and Not having a choice.

Any thoughts on what else makes you attached to a character? What makes an unlikable character that you feel audiences were supposed to like?


If we’re talking specifically about interactive fiction, I think a very important aspect of characters’ likability is how their relationships with the player character are written. An NPC can be a very interesting character on their own, but if their relationship with the MC is not written well, I won’t get attached to this character. The opposite is also true: you may feel like a character is a bit boring until you get a chance to develop an interesting and nuanced relationship dynamic with them.

One of the characters who I got attached to very quickly is Ortega from Fallen Hero. Before reading, I already knew that this is a major and important character in the book, so I had high expectations to begin with, but this could also be a negative factor if the character didn’t live up to the expectations. Before meeting Ortega in the book for the first time, the player is introduced to some of the MC’s memories about their past relationship, and it was already enough to make me very invested in this character. So even before actually meeting Ortega, I already liked them and was very excited to meet them because of how well thought out their relationship with the MC is.

Of course, this is a rather specific situation which only applicable for characters who already had relationship in the past. But having relationship in the past isn’t a guarantee of likability: sometimes when the NPC is the best friend of the MC, it can feel like the MC is supposed to like them for the sake of the story, but the player may not develop any fondness towards the character, and even feel more repelled by them because they feel like the book is forcing them to feel a certain way.

The example of successfully written bff character in my opinion is Becca/Beckett from The Fernweh Saga. In the book, MC returns to their childhood town accompanied by B (who’s not from that town). On one hand, we have B, who chose to come along with the MC to provide support, thus prioritising MC’s needs over their own; on the other hand, B didn’t feel very comfortable in the unfamiliar town, which made me and my MC very protective of B. I think these factors together made me sincerely care about B and believe in their friendship with the MC. These things can also make new characters without bff status more likable for the player: their willingness to be selfless for the MC; and if they trigger protective feelings.

What makes an unlikable character? I’ve already said that if the game is forcing the player to feel a certain way about a character, it may repel them instead. Another thing: sometimes it seems like a character is the writer’s favourite, so they make sure that this character is always perfect, and even if they make mistakes, it’s okay, it’s not a big deal. But if MC does something similar, the game is treating MC like they committed a terrible crime. For example: NPC can be rude towards MC without much repercussions, while if MC says something like that to the NPC, they will lose a ton of relationship points with them and everybody will be shocked by how rude they are. The preferential treatment like that may only make people dislike the character.

PS: I reread the original post before posting my reply, and realised that the characters I mentioned weren’t supposed to be “bad guys” in the first place like some of the original examples (B is an angel; Ortega, on the other hand, is more ambiguous). I hope it’s okay. :sweat_smile: In any case, I think the same logic can be applied to villains too: the nuances of their relationship with the MC can make them more likable for the player.


I tend not to like characters I’m forced to babysit. I usually won’t play a game with a dependent child character who you have to take care of - that dynamic doesn’t interest me at all. And I get why you can’t usually dislike the child in question - no-one wants to play Child Abuse Simulator (hopefully!).

These characters aren’t even necessarily always children. I remember playing a WIP with a jester called… Clementine, IIRC? who tagged along with you and your companion on a trip and seemed childish and incompetent. I know that the nature of interactive games is that you will be forced to spend time with characters, but I don’t like being forced to take care of them.

I really liked the MC’s sister in this game whose name escapes me, though. The vaguely Slavic medieval one where you were the bastard child of the king and a traumatised general whose little sister assumes the throne? She’s 16 and you kind of have to babysit her, but even though she’s grieving, she’s intelligent, funny, and, depending on your choices, she can become independent and a smart strategic leader. So it doesn’t feel like you’re nannying her - she’s a character in her own right.


What is a complex character anyway? Someone who has mood swings? One minute they are happy, then snap at you in the next? They have secrets, but they lie with every breath they take to the point you can’t tell what the hell is going on anymore?

How about you ditch the word complex and leave it to ‘Plot’. A complex Plot is better than a complex character. A complex plot is riveting, full of puzzle and actually is easier to create than a complex character.

I suggest you try to make them human. Normal. Like your boring neighbor next door. He has flaws, like everyone on this forsaken planet. Only by talking to him, you will find said flaws. Maybe at first look, he looks normal, maybe his job is as boring as he is, maybe underneath the facade he is a serial killer…

His basement hides all the broccoli he stole…dun dun dun

You know it is odd how one brain work. I, for example never put much though about character personality when I write them.

I don’t muse ‘Hm, I want this character to be an asshole…’.

What I do is write them as human being. The asshole part will come out eventually, but guess what? it is because we all have the capacity to be an asshole. And only by creating ‘Situation’ and making said character interact with it…only then you will see their true colors!

Confused? Confusing? Let me put it simply: Don’t tell people ‘Hey I wrote this character this way! You gotta like him!!’.

Because if the world worked that way, then everytime we kill in a video game the game would pause automatically and screech at us ‘Hey you killed someone! Feel bad!’. They don’t. They put you in a situation with a small brief story, give you a gun and let you at it.

When you write characters? it is the same. SHOW, don’t tell. Let your players make their own decisions. Some will like it, some will hate it…it is the reality of life.

But some will hate my character!!!

So what? Hating a character is also a form of praise. Nobody like everyone you know. Unless you are a saint yourself…are you?

Just like some peoples fall for the bad guy. I don’t know why, I only know they do. Yes it is a puzzle, isn’t it? But if that is allowed and seen as ‘Praise’, then the opposite must be true.

Your job as a writer isn’t to tell your player ‘Like this character’. Your job is the following:

1- Have fun writing your game. This is very important.

2- Tell the story that is taking space in your mind, don’t think you have an SSD there! Come on, I betcha you are running out of space by now!

3- Vent all your emotional shit while you are writing. (Cheaper than Therapy!)

4- Make some dinero down the line…(This is better than OnlyFan…I tell you!)

Create the character you want. Give them flaws, give them temper, endurance, habit, clothes (My eyess!!), tolerance…etc

Put them in a situation (That is your scene), introduce more assholes (Those are your NPC), and watch them bickers (They say we need children’s…Woe is the writer with many toddler roaming their minds).

Then benefit…?

I believe it’s the opposite of one-note character. (So, in essence, “write them human”.) Or a character who has a complex, I guess, but that wouldn’t sound too good if that’s their only personality.

These may be of some interest:



What makes a likable character, is when the character is a friendly, outgoing person. They are always complimenting the MC in a friendly way.

In conclusion,

Agreeable and friendly

A likable person is agreeable and friendly. It’s very easy to be fond of someone who’s likable. Every student wants to take a class with the most likable teacher in your school, and your likable acquaintances find it easy to make friends.

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Things that make characters likable to me:

Competence, but not to overshadow MC in every aspects

A sense of humour, especially in a grim time.

Passion. I may not agree with their priority, but it makes them interesting.

Friendly/helpful to MC: can be for their own agenda

Care about people/principle other than themselves

Examples that I like: JJ in Slammed, Marcus in Defiled Hearts: The Barbarian


A likeable person is agreeable and friendly – a likeable character is not necessarily. An audience places trust in the competence of a writer to explore the depths of their characters, and thus we are far more willing to accept, forgive, and love the flaws of a fictional character than a real stranger. Some of my favorite fictional characters are rabblerousing drunkards, smug assholes, flighty cowards, and other extremely flawed people who I would probably never want to hang out with in real life – but they’re so interesting to read and watch grow, change, and mess up. In other words, their “friendly” moments may be subtle and hidden under layers of flaws, but the process of finding that core is interesting.

While I think depth trumps pretty much everything else in chadacter writing, I also don’t think it’s the end-all-be-all of characters. When @Fable brings up Harley Quinn, I agree that many people are drawn to her and stand by her because she is a very sympathetic character as an abuse victim in a toxic relationship, but that’s not why everyone likes her. Harley was originally a literal Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain who was only meant to appear in one episode, but they liked her so much they kept bringing her back. They didn’t like her because of her backstory–that wouldn’t be written for another two years–but because they found the character of a sarcastic, wisecracking villainess with a thick Brooklyn accent and a giant hammer to be fun and entertaining to watch. Charisma can go a very long way toward likeablity, even if they are antagonistic jerks.

Characters who are likeable right off the bat can still have depth and interesting layers to explore of course, but I do think it’s more difficult to pull off than the classic “jerk with a heart of gold” archetype. They tend to either 1. fall flat or 2. veer off into “oooh, I’m secretly a huge jerk! bet you didn’t see that coming, this is what you meant by depth right?” territory.

While I don’t think the praise part is always true (if a character is universally despised, you probably didn’t do a good job), I agree with the sentiment. @Fable used Chloe Price as an example of how not to write a likeable character, and while agree that Life Is Strange had…questionable character writing, Chloe more-or-less worked for me. Everyone’s mileage may vary. The key in IF writing isn’t writing a likeable character that everyone will enjoy, I think it’s writing a character that people will like or dislike on strength of personality alone (i.e. not because the game railroads them or otherwise causes some imbalance of interaction that makes people resent the character.)

Very true – even real world serial killers and war criminals (unfortunately) have their fans.


Unless it’s what you wanted, no? (I’d think making a universally despised character would be an impressive feat anyway.)


Thought, love and care I tend to hate the ‘Oh woe is me I’m soooooo rich but soooooo troubled’ trope because I’ve been homeless so I just can’t sympathize with that trope example Logan from Gilmore Girls hate that dude BUT if you put thought and care into the character and YOU personally love the character than it should work. Good example of this trope Tristan from Gilmore Girls.

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Oof. It really depends on the medium and tone you’re going for, but I think my biggest thing is that the characters react appropriately to the situation (based on their characterization and also like. The tone of the work, obviously, but still.) I HATE HATE HATE feeling like a conflict is contrived, but I hate it even more when it’s during a crisis of some sort wherein the characters would absolutely not be having the conflict because THERE ARE BIGGER THINGS TO FOCUS ON. I guess that just falls under keeping the character consistent. If they’re competent, don’t suddenly make them an idiot so the MC can start to suddenly clean up after them and seem competent themself. Of course, there are ways this scenario can work (there are always ways,) but I’ve seen one too many characters who are perfectly likeable have a sudden drop in fans due to a bad choice by the writers when it comes to their character. Basically, don’t sacrifice character for the sake of the plot to such an extent that it becomes noticeable.

In theory, I enjoy the dynamic, but in practice, I feel much the same way. It’s fun to read in a medium without choice because it explores a lot of themes I like, but when you’re playing the character… ehh. The children are never written… well? I dunno. I’d like to see a dynamic where the child actually attempts to pull their weight and does it successfully, because it’s always the case that whenever the child tries to do anything or make any decision for themself, the narrative punishes them for it, and has the PC swoop in and save them, which… I don’t like. It’d be cooler to have a sort of mentor/mentee relationship where the kid is actively learning and putting into practice the things the PC teaches them, instead of just being taken care of, and in turn can teach the PC things about like. Idk. Love and vulnerability or something.

Actually, yeah, another thing that makes a character more likeable; have the narrative actually reward them for the good actions they do, if The World Beating Them Down isn’t part of their arc. Like, it’s good and all when an underdog does something daring and risky, but there are so many times where I see it done and the Daring Risky Act doesn’t actually… do anything? For example, taking a swing at the big bad at the last moment, catching them by surprise because they never expected the King’s Jester to try to attack them, considering he’s been characterised as cowardly and weak, but past convos with the PC have caused him to realize he DOES want to take a stand, and it culminates here, where he’s distracting the Big Bad so the PC can scramble away, except… the big bad just. Brushes it off and barely reacts, knocking the Jester back against the wall and having them pass out. Which takes away almost entirely from what the act is meant to accomplish for their character.

OURGHHHH. HATE. HATEE. Okay well this is out of context and I haven’t actually played this game, so I can’t say that, but I do heavily dislike the “childish incompetent bubbly naive adult that Always Gets Into Trouble, That Loveable Scamp!” character. Especially so since it always seems to be the Best Friend character. And, I know WHY that trope exists: SOMEONE has to pull the MC into the AdventureTM, but there are 10000 more interesting ways to do it, and… Augh. Off topic.

But I also think this is related to something: Give the character a POINT to being there. What are they doing here? Why are they with the MC? What’s their relationship to them? And if it’s a Bestie Character that the MC has known for a while, then PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE for the love of god have a flashback scene or two so we can flesh out how they met and what their relationship has been like for the past However Many Years they’ve known eachother. It gives so much more depth to their relationship and allows it to feel actually long-term, rather than isolated, like it so often does. Same goes for ANYONE who’s supposed to have been with and known the MC for a long time, and is currently still with them. This can be pulled off without a flashback scene of course, but it helps SO MUCH in getting us to care about the character because we can see how they’ve helped the MC/how the MC has helped them in times of vulnerability or pain, and it allows us to see WHY they are so close/why they’ve stuck with eachother. Otherwise… I tend to not ever really see the point of The Character that’s there at the beginning of the adventure that just kinda… tags along with the MC. Everyone else always has some kind of motive for being there, but “it’s because I love and am loyal to my bestie!!!” falls kind of flat when it’s not backed up with anything.

I, The Forgotten One? It’s been released on HG, I think. (And is one of my favorite IFs…)


You’d be surprised. I’ve gotten a few requests regarding The Parenting Simulator over the years along those lines.

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Very, Very, true.

Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts with me! :blue_heart:

I like to write my characters personalities as I go but what I found myself stuck on was making a key character that has their flaws but those flaws need to make sense and not destroy the character in the audience’s eyes. I got some really good feedback on that front.

True enough, I usually hate it when I am forced to care about a character I don’t like. I just worry about how the story flow will feel if I write a character that is meant to motivate the plot but audiences hate them (AKA if I write a character like Chloe Price). I am trying to write them as ‘human’, with their own flaws and personality; it worries me if those flaws outweigh their personality in the eyes of readers.

When I say ‘complex’ I mean human, not one dimensional and not perfect. I love morally grey characters and people with flaws, I hate saint characters that never do any wrong. I feel like it’s a cheap way of making someone likeable.


Absolutely, I want all the characters to be complex humans with a full range of human emotions. Nothing I hate worse than a story with the standard:

RO 1 is a ray of sunshine, the are always positive and bubbly. RO 2 is grumpy. They are always grouchy, broody and angry. RO 3 is the flirt, no matter the situation, they can only flirt. RO 4 is the white knight, does not have the moral aptitude to determine shades of grey.

These are caricatures, not characters. Please let them all be multi-dimensional people instead of one note robots only programmed with one personality mode.


For me, a “complex” character would mean “detailed,” let’s say. Someone who you could spend a bit of time describing, rather than just a sentence or phrase or two like the examples in the post above me. Would have their own interests, preferences, experiences, a life that’s informed how they act and react to things now, traits that make them stand out as distinct, etc.

I’ve also seen some advice that suggested when fleshing out a character, don’t just think about what they are—think about what they do. I think this can help make a description of a character feel more memorable, plus it puts you in a mindset of how to show a personality. That is, after all, how you get to know what people are like in your own life.


Ooh ooh! Have you heard the “a character’s strengths should also be their flaws” thing? It’s an oldie but a goodie, and translates well almost all the time. I like to think of it less like “flaws” and “strengths” being separate isolated attributes, and more like the downsides and upsides of any particular character/personality traits. Basically, pick a trait, or, if you’re having difficulty finding something perfectly neutral or whatever, a flaw or strength, and then list possible upsides/downsides OF that flaw or strength! I find that helps me when I’m rereading and a character feels inconsistent but I can’t figure out why. Also related, a characters’ motivations should relate to or be influenced by their character traits (whether it be how they go about their motivation, or the nature of the motivation… etc.)


For me, a character can be likable in 2 different ways:

1 - Characters that have both sympathetic and questionable traits, like Walter White, Dexter, Tony Montana, etc.

2 - Characters that allow me to subvert their stereotype, like playing the good version of the Dark Urge in BG3 and playing a Chaotic Neutral Demon in Pathfinder WOTR.

So basically, I like turning supposed evil characters good and vice versa.

I hope there’s more games that allow me to do this lol

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Yes! I didn’t realise it was released - might buy it for myself as a Christmas present :smiley:


Not to harp on what we all already know is one of our masterpieces of IF…

I direct all eyes to Fallen Hero :slight_smile: I think every single FH character is likable or not depending on who you are and how they grate you. But overall I believe we all feel generally positive towards the entire cast because they’re all written like actual people. One of my biggest critiques with a lot of choice based works is that I often feel like I’m just choosing how other characters react or treat the MC.

If I flirt, they flirt back, but they usually don’t show any interest in the MC unless I make a first step so that’s somewhat jarring. If I say something hurtful, they say something hurtful back.

In FH I feel like I have zero control over how the other characters are going to respond or act. As I get to know them, like I would with actual people, I can get a general idea of what they might do. Like I know if Sidestep gives Ortega an inch on anything, they’ll take 3 miles. If Sidestep slips up in a conversation with Steel, he will notice. Etc. But overall they feel like real people with real goals, and every interaction with them as Sidestep feels like a genuine interaction where I can only control my side and how I react.

So, I’d say a likable character is a believable one. A character with their own goals, private lives, and their own personal interpretation/thoughts on the PC/world/themself etc. Not everyone will like them because you can’t get everyone to like anything but you can make it so that most interactions with that character are genuinely engaging and they feel like a real person moving about your fictional world.