Discussion: How Important is Likability In A Story?

let's talkI recently attempted to read Wuthering Heights. I ultimately gave up on it because I couldn’t find much to like about the story. Heathcliff and Catherine were two miserable people. They made themselves, others, and me  miserable. I couldn’t find anything to like about them. The story is really just an extension of them so I had a hard time liking it as well.

That got me thinking….do you really need to like something (characters, story, setting, etc.) in order to enjoy a book?

For the most part, I need to like something about a book to really enjoy it. I know I don’t have to like every single aspect of a book but there needs to be something I can get behind. A lot of the time, if I can’t find anything to like about a story, I just won’t finish it.

There are very few cases where I don’t like the book but I enjoy it at the same time. The one that comes to mind is The Magicians by Lev Grossman. For the most part, I didn’t the characters and the story was dark and a bit depressing. I still enjoyed the book (to a certain extent) because the idea of the story was interesting.

What do you think? How important is likability in a story? How important is it for you?

26 thoughts on “Discussion: How Important is Likability In A Story?

  1. Wow, this is a great discussion question! Since I started reading from my classic book list, I have disliked two love interests: Rochester in Jane Eyre and Estella in Great Expectations. It felt as if I was going against something fundamental about the story. I agree with you that you don’t need to love everything about a book to enjoy it, but there does have to be something for you to believe in to stay invested in the story. In my case, I loved the main characters and wanted to see where the authors would take them. Did you finish The Magicians? Do you think you will ever give Wuthering Heights another chance?

    • I did finish The Magicians. I kind of ended up liking it even if I hated how miserable everyone was.

      I’m not sure. Maybe in the future? Maybe I need to watch a good adaption of the book to change my mind about the story.

  2. I HATE withering heights – inonly finished it (did the audiobook) to say that I hate but yeah – limited to no redeeming qualities…

    For me, an author who can make me finish a book if I hate the main characters (I.e. gone girl) is abt as skilled as they come

  3. I think main characters are really important to like…of course if they have to be awful (Eustace in Narnia or Harry Potter when he’s an angsty 14 year old) I might be able to deal….but angst in characters, heroines who are shallow and stupid love interests almost always turn me off..

  4. Likeable characters are the main way of getting into a story – if you can’t stand to be in their company, chances are you won’t enjoy the story. However, if the concept is interesting enough, if there are ideas in the story that grab your brain and make you want to know more, it can save the story. For example, I’m reading the graphic novel Watchmen, and I don’t like any of the characters much, but the world the story is set in is fascinating. Likewise, the Joss Whedon series Dollhouse appealed to my mind long before I felt emotionally engaged with any characters.

  5. I find that I can sacrifice character likability if they grow..or at least the plot is compelling. Evidence shows that I can hate everything about a 400 page novel and still finish it. Although I don’t have patience, an unfinished book is like an obligation to me, so once I start a book–I have to see it through. I just finished one of these books, and I honestly rather watch paint dry than read it again.

  6. I am not sure if you have read the Hunchback of Notre Damn but man that book is sad. Nothing good happens. But I made it through and it turned out to be a wonderful book. I am not sure if anyone was really likeable in it… so I guess I can make it though Wuthering Heights. If I ever attempt it.

    Angela’s Anxious Life

  7. Oh yeah, I HAVE to like the MC to like a book. I know some people don’t feel that way, but it’s a must for me. There are so many books I want to read, and if I’m miserable with the characters of a book, then I would rather find some characters that I want to spend time with.

  8. I can tolerate anything but whining. Anything. If a character is snarky, dishonest, or unsympathetic, I will give them a chance because I’m hoping they will redeem themselves in the end. But if they whine, I will throw the book across the room.

  9. I tried wuthering heights too. I think I needed to be younger to get that odd miserable love thing and find it tragic and amazing…I don’t know.
    I need to like something about a book to keep reading. It is funny because a lot of the fangirling I do, and the only way I fall in love with a book is if I love the characters and they pull a lot of emotion from me. If I don’t love the characters, I have to like the story or have a good mystery or something. Gone Girl had the twistiness of the story and Casual Vacancy had awesome writing. Otherwise I would have put them down prior to finishing. Great post!

  10. I think it can be important, depending on the story. Wuthering Heights is one of those tragic stories where you’re not really meant to like anyone. It points out the tragic flaws of some people. I have a hard time with those types of books. Luckily, I was in the right frame of mind for it when I read Wuthering Heights. It’s been one of my favorites since I read it three and half years ago.

    • It’s an interesting idea to have a story where you’re not supposed to like the characters. That’s a bit hard for me to wrap my head around!

  11. I don’t mind unlikeable characters as long as they’re interesting. People who are unrelentingly unlikeable and never change and all they do is act hateful constantly to everyone (CATHY & HEATHCLIFF) are not worth my time — in life or in books.

  12. Pingback: Week 21: Owl tell you… - The Leading LibrarianThe Leading Librarian

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