Characters will have their unique personalities, but certainly similar traits. The same sense of humour, the same sense of right and wrong, the same positive or negative outlook on life. With that said, there are some more defined traits we can give characters to make them more likeable, from a sarcastic sense of humour to a sincere sense of justice.
Here are 5 likeable character traits and how to write them!
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1. Speaking of Sarcasm
I’ve talked about sarcasm and its effect in writing many times. It is much like salting a meal. Too much salt and the meal is spoiled. Too much sarcasm and cynicism will take a lot of the good away.
However, if done in moderation, sarcasm offers a new perspective on the story. One that isn’t so serious and more of a commentary on what is happening with a sharp, comedic edge.
For example, if you are describing a list of difficult tasks to a sarcastic character for them to complete, they might respond like so, “Oh, sure, no problem. Do you want me to raise Atlantis while I’m at it?”
Not only does it provide a comedic look on a plot, but it also highlights the madness of some situations. The reader can acknowledge and perhaps agree with this look at the plot or conversation. In that way, the reader might become further attached to the story and/or the sarcastic character.
Another example, a character might be describing how they got electrocuted while tinkering with something dangerous, a sarcastic character might respond with, “Playing with live wires can get you electrocuted? Who could have known?” or they could throw a pun into the comment, such as, “That’s shocking!”
Sarcasm is comedic, it can make a reader smile, giggle or chuckle even in the darkest situations. It evokes emotion, making it a useful tool and excellent character trait.
Personally, I believe every character has the potential to be sarcastic. When an opportunity for a character to be sarcastic presents itself and I feel the scene is right, I will give them the sudden spark to say something sarcastic. In some cases, this made a scene better than I thought it would be and I chose to write the scene with a new spin on it.
Think of your story, your characters and your scenes. Perhaps giving a particular character this trait will make them more likeable and your story more enjoyable. Otherwise, you settle with the occasional sarcastic comment from any character.
2. Relatable Confusion
The next trait is a down-to-earth character with a relatable sense of confusion. After all, not every story will be so simple and understandable, so it helps to have a character that is struggling to understand what is going on to either help the reader, or for an added sense of relatability or once more, for comedic effect.
These are the characters that ask questions in key moments, that try to understand the motives of characters and how the world works. These characters will often get their answers or draw their conclusions, so that way the reader can follow the story but also form their own opinions on what is happening.
On the other end of the spectrum, perhaps your story is that simple and the character that is confused by what is going on is simply a bumbling character that offers a silly take on the story. It could be a foolish henchman who doesn’t know how to carry out their bosses plans properly or a character who is confused with how they keep ending up in dramatic or chaotic situations.
Whether you use the character trait as a story-telling tool or as a comedic break, a confused character adds depth to a story. Not everyone understands what is happening in the plot. There will be incorrect assumptions or foolish mistakes to convey a sense of realism.
Depending on how you write their confusion, the character can be relatable, funny and/or endearing.
Personally, I don’t recommend using a confused character as a story-telling mechanic. These characters, when written plainly, can come off as talking down to the reader. To remove this effect, writers often work hard to fit the character into the plot logically and then write the character with a personality and purpose that makes them realistic and enjoyable to read.
Of course, by the time all this is done, the character might appear to be a comedic break or simply another character setting up some exposition. Whichever it may be, the character has a relatable trait and thus they are more likeable.
As for writing them, simply have them ask questions and make mistakes. It can be done simply, such as asking a logical question or making an understandable mistake. Or it can be done complexly, by having the character draw their conclusions and make their decisions with confidence, without realising that the results will be different from what they have in mind.
3. A Short Fuse
Having a short fuse, having little patience, you might think is a bad trait. After all, those who are patient are often more understanding and prone to kindness than those with a short fuse. Right?
On the right person, having little patience for what is wrong can be a fantastic trait for a more likeable character. For example, let’s say a good character is being insulted by a bad character. The one with the short fuse will happily skip the defensive and start with the assault.
Perhaps they throw a torrent of insults of their own, or if the bad character crossed a line they shouldn’t have, the short fuse might throw a punch instead.
These are the no-nonsense characters that don’t beat around the bush, they loathe the frustrating tasks and almost will the people they don’t like to make a misstep so they can vent their aggression out on them. A character who targets the characters the reader doesn’t like is immediately more likeable.
The character with the short fuse will think the same things as the reader, but won’t sit on these thoughts for long if the provocation persists. These are the characters that say what they feel, do what they want, because they can’t stand the alternative, which is simply keeping their peace and letting the comments slide.
Personally, I have found that this is another trait that is commonly shared by many characters, but in certain regards. For example, a basic character with a short fuse will stand up against provocation on almost every front. However, regular characters won’t stand provocation in specific areas.
For example, let’s say a regular character and a short-fuse character are insulted. A regular character might let it slide or return it with a chirpy comment. A short-fused character will return the insult with an insult of their own, or they might be a little more hands-on and act physically.
Now, let’s take these same characters. Let’s have the bad character insult something the regular character deeply cares about. At this, the regular character might act with more passion, insulting or perhaps throwing a punch like the short-fuse character. Meanwhile, the short-fuse character will immediately act more aggressively.
Such emotion is understandable, perhaps relatable and depending on the situation and reaction, even enjoyable to read. Thus, what is seemingly a bad trait on one character can be a likeable trait on another.
Moving from the loud and aggressive, let’s bring our attention to a favourite trait in the old-wizard department; kind wisdom.
Many characters have become favourites for their soft-hearted, sometimes wonderfully humorous, wisdom. These characters are typically ones that have lived many years, experienced many hardships and came through that fire a great person. Such a character usually advises those who need their wisdom the most, helping them become the person they didn’t know they wanted to be.
The beauty of these characters is that they are often so purely good that the only way to give them the depth of character is to give them a dark past. One where they were an antagonist, or at least, not a very nice person. Of course, this is done for a good reason. A character comes off as boring and two-dimensional if they are one thing all the time, so giving such a character a contrasting past shows character growth, it shows humanity.
The character immediately becomes more realistic and thus the reader will have a great attachment to them.
Personally, I haven’t written such a character. Despite the hundreds of short stories and assorted novels, no character that fits this description comes to mind. Yet, I certainly have a selection of favourites that have appeared in every form of media, from books to movies to cartoons to series.
With that said, I can’t provide much writing input on this character as my experience with this character type is limited. Yet, when in doubt, I can always recommend looking at examples you admire and drawing inspiration from there.
We have all read stories of characters that are thrown into strange situations and no matter who they turn to, everyone questions the legitimacy of their claims. However, not that one trusted friend or family member who gives the character the benefit of the doubt.
Writing such a character is pretty simple too.
It is the character that another character can rely on and thus a character which the reader can rely on. It’s a trait that is likeable, no matter what the character. They are loyal, dependable and every other word that describes how they will do anything for a character if they are sincere about their request, even if it is simply to trust them.
Personally, I use this type of character on two different occasions. First and foremost, I use this trait whenever I want to create a side character or an important friend that joins the protagonist or antagonist. No matter which side they are on, this kind of character is certainly deserving of respect.
However, in most cases, I use this trait when I want to gain trust for nefarious reasons. I tend to write darker stories or create surprising characters, which means I need to gain the trust of the character and reader to surprise both. It makes the scene where my character betrays all the more impactful than if they appeared so bland and simple.
Whether you want to make a character more likeable or introduce a likeable side character, give them this simple trait. It shows a certain strength of character, which is always wonderful to read.
If you are anything like me, don’t be afraid to use this trait to hide your real antagonist in plain sight.
Making a character likeable takes more than a quality trait.
The way they speak is important, the way they act is important and who they associate themselves with can show their character. Yet, with a single quality trait, you take them a step closer to likeable.
I know that it’s easy to picture a character and their qualities, but it’s another story to write about them. It’s important that you keep that picture clear in your mind, note these traits and then break them down. See what is missing, what is holding them back and adjusting them until you have all you need to write them.
These five traits I have discussed are no doubt familiar to you, as they are some of the most popular traits writers use when designing their characters. I hope this article has broken these traits down a bit further, giving you an idea of what effect they have on the reader as well as some ways you can write them.
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!