A Likeable Character

Posted on March 11, 2015


When you watch a television show or movie, there are some characters that you like and are rooting for and some that are just not very likeable.[1]  My wife and I have been enjoying Madam Secretary this season, and I had commented that the character of Elizabeth’s and Henry’s eldest daughter, Stevie, is thus far in the show not a very likeable character.  The character is 19 years old, but she is written more like an adolescent: naïve, self-absorbed, doesn’t own her mistakes, sometimes rude.

On The Office and more recently Brooklyn 99, one of the things that makes the shows work is that no matter how quirky and annoying a character might be, you could still see their humanity and some redeeming qualities, and therefore, were routing for them.  There is also the aspect of seeing the growth in the characters as their life experiences are assimilated into who they are.  When that growth is not there, the character is not as likeable.  A classic case in point is Lydia in Pride and Prejudice.[2]  (Spoiler alert if you have never read the book or seen the film).  The story is set in Victorian England.  Lydia is the youngest daughter of the Bennett family.  At the start of the story she is a completely self-absorbed and oblivious 15 year old.  She causes a scandal and a family crisis by eloping with a scoundrel who is later paid to marry her to save the family’s reputation.  At the end of the story she is still completely self-absorbed and oblivious to any of the problems her behavior has caused.

Lydia: I wish for all my sisters to go to Brighton, for that is the place to get husbands.

Elizabeth: I don’t much care for your way of getting husbands.

We can love a deeply flawed character, but we need to see some redeeming characteristics.  We also want to see some growth in the character and his or her relationships.  We can like them better if the hurt they cause others is inadvertent rather than intentional or mean spirited.

So let’s suppose your life is a TV show.  Now if you just thought, the viewers are not going to see my spouse as very likable, you have anticipated where I am going, but you are looking in the wrong direction.  You cannot control what your partner says or does, you can only control you.  Let’s look at you.  You are a quirky character.  We know this because everybody is.  Your partner was strange in ways you never could have imagined before you had to live together.  Conversely, his or her partner was also equally peculiar.  This quirkiness does not impact how much our viewers like your character on the show.

Things that may impact how viewers relate to your character may include evidence of kind and gentle heart.  Do you speak nicely to your partner?  Do you affirm him or her?  When your partner is down do you kick them or help them up?  Do you repay wrong for wrong or do your forgive and reconcile?  Are you there for support when your spouse needs you?  Have you become bitter or have you maintained a positive demeanor?  Do you engage or do you isolate?  Do you hold up your end or does your partner have to pick up the slack?  How about your parenting?  Is it harsh or gentle?  Do you set boundaries or let the kids run the show?  Are you involved or checked out?  Are your responsible or does your partner have another child to manage in you?

You want to make sure the show gets picked up for another season.  Fortunately, you have input on the script as it relates to your character’s lines and actions.  Would you change your lines if you knew millions of viewers were watching?  Be the character you want to be.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” Hebrews 12:1

[1] Sometimes which characters we like or don’t may say something about us rather than the character, but that would be another topic.

[2] If you have never read the book or seen any of the innumerable film adaptations, it is worthwhile just for the examination of relationship dynamics.