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How do you make a character likable?

 
 
Muarck
 
Reply Wed 9 Nov, 2011 10:15 pm
Okay, I want to make this an interesting discussion:

How do you make a character likable or interesting...
Most textbook hacks just say make him 'save a cat' and/or give him a back story.

Personal I think that's just textbook ****.
Mel Gibson, in Payback, killed a lot more than just a cat and I loved that guy.
Keanu Reeves, in the Matrix, had no back story and I found him fascinating.
For Romantic Comedy/Dramas, Hugh Grant, Notting Hall, also had no back story; and he's my favorite romance character.

So what makes a character likable?
I lean toward saying it's that first three minutes of story... Are his actions interesting or strong in those first three minutes? But at least for me... I don't give a story a half hour if I'm not liking the character in 3 minutes I quit. I have NetFlix, I've got access to hundreds of other movies!

So what works for you all?
 
Lustig Andrei
 
  3  
Reply Thu 10 Nov, 2011 01:29 am
@Muarck,
Unfortunately, a lot of the time it's not the quality of the script that makes a character likeable but, rather, the personality of the actor portraying that character.

(We are talking about screenplays, not novels or short stories, right?)
Roberta
 
  2  
Reply Thu 10 Nov, 2011 03:23 am
@Lustig Andrei,
You beat me to the punch, Andy. I was gonna say, tell the actor to be likable.
0 Replies
 
boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Nov, 2011 07:48 am
@Muarck,
I've been mulling over this same question so I'll be interested in what people here have to say!

I've been watching all the episodes of the TV show "Breaking Bad" and I just can't understand why I don't hate this character and his sidekick.

I'm watching it on Netflix. I urge you to check it out. It will really challenge your assumption of "the first three minutes".
0 Replies
 
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Nov, 2011 08:05 am
@Muarck,
You're asking us an impossible question as you already mentioned your subjective sensibilities. We can't know why you think the following characters are fascinating. We may have our own reasons to like, love, or hate these characters that may or may not differ with your opinions.

You need to figure out on your own WHY:
Quote:
Mel Gibson, in Payback, killed a lot more than just a cat and I loved that guy.
Keanu Reeves, in the Matrix, had no back story and I found him fascinating.
For Romantic Comedy/Dramas, Hugh Grant, Notting Hall, also had no back story; and he's my favorite romance character.

Something tells me, you're more enamored with the actor, the actor's performance, and the character's story and story context then the actual character and if you changed the actor and removed the character from the movie and placed him or her into every day life: grocery shopping, waiting in the DMV line to renew his driver's license, etc... your opinion of the character
0 Replies
 
coluber2001
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Nov, 2011 01:45 pm
In order to identify with a character he must have flaws, not be perfect, as nobody can identify with perfection. Of course, having flaws is not enough; he must also have doubts so he is not sociopathic. Notice in Dostovevsky's "Crime and Punishment," that Raskolnikov, who murders two women ,is still a sympathetic character, because he is constantly racked with doubt; therefore, redemption is possible.

On the other hand Jean Valjean in "Le Miserables"--originally imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his child--becomes the next thing to a saint--, but how can you compare yourself to this man. He's way out of reach.

Raskolnikov was an extreme but still very human case; Jean Valjean was heroic but godlike and melodramatic.

I think that some of the most sympathetic characters are reluctant heroes, who don't really want to get involved because of self-interest, but end up getting involved anyway; it's in their character. We like that because that's the way we all would like to be, but aren't.
0 Replies
 
Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Nov, 2011 04:57 pm
@Muarck,
Interesting - Bookmark
0 Replies
 
Lustig Andrei
 
  2  
Reply Thu 10 Nov, 2011 07:59 pm
The most ancient of old saws in 'writing to sell' classes is that the only plot which works at all levels is this one:

A LIKEABLE CHRACTER STRUGGLES TO OVERCOME GREAT ODDS IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH A WORTHWHILE GOAL

Mysellf, I think that's hogwash. (1) There is no reason that the protagonist has to be likeable. He does, however, have to be interesting. Bland is the death-knell. (2) There is likewise no reason why the goal that the protagonist is striving for has to be worthwhile. Think Ocean's Eeven. Robbing a casino is a worthwhile goal?

And that's where the actor's personality comes in. Think Boris Karloff. Think Bela Lugosi. Think Peter Lorre. Nothing 'likeable' about any of them. But fascinating? Ahh, yes.
msolga
 
  2  
Reply Fri 11 Nov, 2011 01:22 am
I think the audience has to feel an empathy with the character ... they have to care about what happens to her/him. Become involved in their story & want them to succeed.
If that empathy, or ability to relate to the character, is lacking, & you simply don't care what happens to them, then the film/book/miniseries won't appeal to too many people at all. The audience will not become involved in the story.

Take a character like Dexter.:



If you look at what he actually does .... he takes the law into his own hands, enjoys killing people for revenge, he actually seems to savour watching them finally suffer (not remorse, but terror) & the enjoys process of killing them ... chopping them up & packing their body parts & disposing of them .....

So how could Dexter possibly be likeable?:

We learn that his "condition" is not his fault. It is the result of his mother's gruesome death at the hands of thug criminals. He is presented as a victim.
We learn that his adoptive father taught him to become a serial killer as a way of adapting to his "condition". (And to be very secretive about it, which means he is destined to a life of loneliness.) When Dexter was far too young to understand .... & struggle though he has, this is who he is as an adult. And we are on his side because we understand.

A clever script & a sort of Joe Everyone actor playing the lead role.
And we like him, become anxious when he's almost caught out, because we identify with his struggle to be "good" & "normal". His plight seems so credible!
Pretty scary stuff, when you think about it.

Lustig Andrei
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Nov, 2011 09:52 pm
@msolga,
Good point, msolga. We're none of us totally likeable all the time. We don't expect chracters in movies or books to be so, either. But we do need to be able to have empathy with them. We need to understand why a character acts the way that he/she does. It doesn't always necessitate a complete back-story but it does require some sharacter development that the viewer/reader can understand.
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Nov, 2011 10:34 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
Yes.
And in Dexter's case, we empathize so easily because he is the narrator ... whatever occurs, we hear his version of events, his voice. So our whole perception is coloured by his perspective. And we aren't privy to anyone else's perspective of the same events to anywhere near the same extent.

I'm trying to think of other films/tv productions where the voice over device is used in this way. I know there are many, but examples escape me right now.
You know the main character/narrator so much better than everyone else in the story, how could you not empathize with them? (Unless they are a deliberately created as unsympathetic or evil characters.)
CalamityJane
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Nov, 2011 11:16 pm
@Lustig Andrei,
I agree Andy, except there are hardly any interesting actors out there. Most of them are pretty boys without much charisma or substance. I've seen so many Brad Pitt movies and they're all mediocre, he never captures the audience.

Johnny Depp on the other hand, has a lot more substance, he can play many different roles quite plausible and some of them are contrary like in "Chocolate" or "Secret Window" and of course "Captain Sparrow".

How to make a character likable? Give him attributes everyone appreciates - like integrity, being humble, have some ethics (even villains do).

Hugh Grant is quite humble and shy in his movie roles, that makes him all the more adorable and likable.
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Nov, 2011 11:19 pm
@msolga,
Or if not voice over, the main character might actually talk directly to the audience, so we gain more insight into his/her motives than any other characters in the film. Ferris confides in us, he implicates us in his plans .... :

Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Nov, 2011 12:16 am
@msolga,
I'm probably in the minority here, olga, but I did not like Ferris Bueller at all. I think it's probably why I didn't like the movie at all.

Having the main character speak directly to the audience isn't a bad idea, but a lot depends on what he says and how he says it.
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Nov, 2011 12:59 am
@Roberta,
Oh I can understand that, Roberta. Ferris may well be many peoples' idea of a perfect pain in the bum! Smile
Actually, I was looking for an example of a character speaking directly to the audience ...& no doubt Ferris came to mind because I've taught that film in year 10 media studies so many times! Students always loved him, though, so I guess it worked on that audience.)
I'm certain there are many other more sympathetic examples . They just escape me at the moment.
Roberta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Nov, 2011 01:48 am
@msolga,
olga, You picked a fine example. I can't think of another movie where that happens. It happens on the stage often enough.
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Nov, 2011 01:57 am
@Roberta,
Quote:
It happens on the stage often enough.

Yes it does.
And I still can't think of another film example, Roberta. Smile
Though lots of examples of voice overs.
0 Replies
 
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Nov, 2011 05:46 am
@CalamityJane,
CalamityJane wrote:

I agree Andy, except there are hardly any interesting actors out there. Most of them are pretty boys without much charisma or substance. I've seen so many Brad Pitt movies and they're all mediocre, he never captures the audience.


I thought that Brad Pitt was really good in 12 Monkeys. It was not a pretty boy, mediocre performance at all.
CalamityJane
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Nov, 2011 12:28 pm
@izzythepush,
There you go, he's performed good for once and I haven't seen the movie.
Perhaps he really got into the 12 Monkeys? Laughing
izzythepush
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Nov, 2011 12:32 pm
@CalamityJane,
It's a really good film.
 

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