When you’re writing a short story or a novel take a moment to ask “”Do I like my main character? Will readers like him/her?”
You can give them all kinds of negative characteristics but at bottom they must be in some way likeable. You can make them an axe murderer (well ,maybe not an axe murderer) or a thief or kidnapper, but you build in a rationale. Why? Thy have a need for what they stole, a need that the reader might not condone but can at least understand.
Or perhaps the kids they kidnapped were their own who had been living in a bad foster situation.
Probably the worst negative characteristic in a story is that a major character is boring. They are plain brown vanilla, or pretty and nice and they never do anything that is not correct. It’s a fatal flaw.
They can make all sorts of mistakes – the more the better for an interesting read. They can have outlandish beliefs, the oddest of goals, they can break the law and maybe even the ten Commandments. They can even break someone’s heart. But you give them a likeability that overrides it all.
At some point the reader discovers that this character has a reason for it. The reader feels that they have known it all along because you have built in from the beginning incidents and anecdotes that show his or her values are solid and straight.
The thief has been shown in a situation where he is not ruled by greed – he could have enriched himself in some way but he did not. So later, when he steals the diamond or the rich lady’s purse the reader feels secure in believing him still to be a good person.
But how to make a character – not a thief or kidnapper – likeable. Allow them to make some mistakes. give them a good sense of humor; especially let them laugh at themselves. Show them at an unglamorous moment – not ruling the corporation but hopping round the bedroom looking for a lost sock. Not glamorously heading for a date but missing the last bus home after a date that went sour.
Show them interacting with others in an empathic way. Let others speak for them, especially someone who doesn’t like them.
“I’m sick of Betty coming to work late. If her father needs that much help she should just put him in a home.”
The contrast emphasizes Betty’s character. You don’t have to write anything as obvious as ‘Betty was kind.”
Give your characters an energy, a drive to DO something or overcome a challenge. Make the need so great that readers are almost helping them along the way – and build in the emotional connection.
And you have to like them yourself if you want your readers to like them. If this wasn’t your story, would you care what happens to them?