Five Ways to Make a Character More Likable:
First is something I’ve talked about before, which is *Flaws*. Being likable comes from a human place, and because we are imperfect, a character is more human and provides us those points to grab onto if there is something about them that’s either flawed or lacking.
Honesty vs. Pandering
Second is something I want to call Honesty vs. Pandering. This is very reflective upon you as the artist. Obviously we are influenced by what people like, to a certain degree. We’re not constantly trying to make abstract and esoteric art, we are looking to build characters that have appeal. Often times though, you’ll see characters that cross over this line, into the territory of pandering.
A character is likable when there is a genuine quality to them. It’s very similar to how we view other people. If they are putting on a front, and acting like they’re someone that they aren’t, we’re repelled by that. So when I character is designed to be super cool, or strong, or ultra confident, it’s very easy for that to be read as pandering.
These qualities may still manifest themselves if we design characters from a place of honesty. The difference though, is that honesty means creating a character from an emotion or feeling that is true to you, or that you understand. You can sort of pull the wool over children’s eyes with this, and pander to them with ultra cool characters, but to be truly good, I character needs to have more depth. This comes back to the adage write what you know, create characters that you understand or are a reflection of you or your life, Or someone that you know well. This may not seem relevant when designing creatures or robots or personified objects, but you have to remember that characters are innately human, No matter what skin they are wearing.
Show Their Struggle
The third tip falls in line with our first, which is to show our characters struggle. This could manifest itself as our character being an underdog. We are intrigued by characters on a journey, who are in progress. So show what your character needs to overcome, whether it’s an external or internal obstacle.
Exaggerate and clarify. Make the features of your character’s face bigger, bigger eyes, make it so we can read their face immediately. Simplify whatever you need to, so that we understand who your character is, and what they are feeling.
Ground Your Characters in Reality
I fall into this trap often. It’s easy to go completely off the wall with your character, building them out of strange shapes and creating really alien and obtuse settings for them, but if you’re going to do that, You need to balance the character out with something that every person will understand, a fundamental truth or a common understanding. For example, you could create a really abstract looking alien, but surround him with paperwork, have him clutch his head in frustration, and people will understand what’s happening. They will even go as far as empathizing with a character, because there’s a familiar quality that they can latch onto.
People love drawing comparisons to things they understand. Something that bugs me at times is when someone uses the phrase “this reminds me of”, even when it’s very obvious, almost as if you could have a black dog wearing a Vader helmet, and have someone say “this reminds me of Darth Vader”. Usually as the artist or the creative person, we are saying “yes… that was the point”, but people love to internalize their connection with something. It’s one thing for people to simply take in knowledge and observe things, but once you’ve made that personal connection, something that reminds them of either themselves or something important to them, then you’ve created something that they can care about. Of course, we want to express ourselves as the person creating, but we have to strike this balance.