How To Create A Likeable Protagonist Immediately (Part II)

In Part I, we looked at four ways on how to create a likeable protagonist immediately. In this blog post, we’ll discuss a further handful of ways that will enable you to create a main or secondary character that your audience will want to keep seeing more of.

Make Him Cheeky And/Or Fun-Loving

How to create a likeable protagonist immediately? Well, making him cheeky and/or fun-loving will certainly bring a smile to the audience’s face. Sometimes, it is because the protagonist’s behaviour reminds us of what we were once like; other times, it may be because we know someone with similar characteristics.

Yes, cheekiness and/or having a fun-loving nature can be annoying on occasions, but they are harmless traits. Plus, they give the protagonist an edge, thereby ensuring that we wants to see what he’ll do next.

Example 1 – Simba

Simba waking up his dad, Mufasa, early. Doesn’t every kid do that?

In The Lion King, the first time we meet properly is not as a new-born being hoisted before the animal kingdom of Pride Rock, but as a cub. He is up at the crack of dawn, excited as a puppy, for a day out with his father.

Subsequently, through nudging and nagging, he wakes up his father so that they can spend some quality time together. As Mufasa rises from his slumber, the audience chuckles, meaning that we like Simba already. Indeed, we await to see what mischief his fun-loving, cheeky nature will get him into next.

Example 2 – Pippin

In The Fellowship of the Ring, we first meet Peregrin Took (Pippin) at Bilbo’s 111th birthday party when he (daftly) sets off the biggest firework in a tent. The audience laughs and, at the same time, shakes their head at Pippin’s idiocy.

Then, Gandalf finds him and makes him do some washing up as punishment, which Pippin does without complaint. Thus, the audience sees that Pippin may not be the brightest, but he is a fun character and a good person at heart. Like with Simba, we look forward to seeing what foolishness he gets up to next.

Example 3 – Lyra from His Dark Materials Trilogy

The main character does not always have to be a typically good soul to make him immediately liked. In Northern Lights, Part I of His Dark Materials Trilogy, we come to learn soon enough that Lyra, the main character, is a liar, thereby making her an anti-hero. (Lying is not generally considered a good or admirable trait, after-all.)

Nevertheless, when we first meet Lyra, she is running around and playing with her daemon, Pantalaimon. This seems innocent enough and it shows that she enjoys a bit of fun and adventure, which makes her likeable in the eyes of the audience. That she then spies on a conference that she shouldn’t only adds to our positive perceptions of her.

Make Him An Overall Badass

Everyone loves a badass. It is cool to read or watch a hero kick, punch, shoot and slay his way through a problem. Plus, his over-all badassery can make up for other deficiencies.

Example 1 – Sylvester Stallone In The Expendables (2010)

how to create a likeable protagonist immediately - make him a badass, like Stallone
Stallone (centre) at the start of action flick, The Expendables.

Granted, it helps when your name is Sylvester Stallone and you’ve been making a name for yourself as an action hero since the 1970s. Someone like him is well known and liked before the narrative has even begun!

Still, though, in the opening scenes of The Expendables, Barney Ross (Stallone) shows us his bravery and shooting skills. As an elite soldier, he saves some hostages from Somali Pirates. Yes, the scene is ludicrous and smacks of ‘if only it were so simple.’ Nevertheless, the audience instantly smiles and likes Barney from the get-go because of his badass nature.

Example 2 – Geralt of Rivia

In the opening scenes of The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) announces himself by being thrust out of a muddy lake and killing a kikimora, a giant spider-monster.

At once, we see how good a fighter he is, and for that alone we like him. Some may like his grunts too, but it is his sword-wielding skills and movements that make us like him over his otherwise brooding, sour nature.

Give Him A Noble Goal

When a main character has a noble goal, we instantly recognise that he has a selfless side to him. This is a likeable quality in general because it shows that he cares for others.

The same is true for a protagonist, and can make up any deficiencies or changes that he undergoes during the course of the narrative.

Example 1 – Captain America and Superman

While the characteristic of having a noble goal can apply to many superheroes, I want to highlight Captain America and Superman, in particular. Both are quite dull characters, plus Superman is invincible (thereby making him a Gary-Stu).

However, the reason that people have flocked in droves to read and watch these two characters over and over again is because of their selfless nature. Captain America lives seemingly just to serve his country, while Superman epitomises the (superficial) ideal of ‘truth, justice and the American way.’

Example 2 – Michael Corleone

how to create a likeable protagonist immediately - a noble goal, like with Michael Corleone
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) at the start of The Godfather, in US soldier uniform. Suffice to say, by the end, he is nothing like his former self.

Having a noble goal can also allow enable us to understand how a good person can become villainous by the end. (We discussed the four stages of how to turn a good guy bad in two blog pieces quite recently.)

Nonetheless, it is worth highlighting here that the reason we take an immediate liking to Michael Corleone in The Godfather is because of his initial noble intentions. He starts off the film as a soldier, serving his country in WWII and wants nothing to do with his father’s mafia business.

Subsequent events, however, change him in a plausible way. By the end of the film, he is unrecognisable from who he was at the start. But that is beside the point.

Make Him Kind

How to create a likeable protagonist immediately? A display of kindness can have a wondrous effect. One simple act can change an entire understanding of a person’s character. Indeed, by you making your POV Character kind to another character when we first meet him, we will instantly like him.

Example – Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class

how to create a likeable protagonist immediately - kindness with Charles
Charles Xavier (left) displaying an act of kindness to the homeless Raven/Mystique in X-Men: First Class.

By the time X-Men: First Class came out in 2011, most members of the audience would have heard of Charles Xavier/Professor X; not least from the comics, the cartoon series, and the first three X-Men films in the early 2000s, wherein the character was played by the (amazing) Sir Patrick Stewart.

Thus, many already knew that Charles Xavier stood for mutual co-existence with the humans. More often than not, a character who stands for the ideals of peace, tolerance and cooperation are liked (or at least respected) by the audience.

What we were not expecting when we first meet a young Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class, was for him to show an act of kindness to his later enemy, Raven/Mystique. One night, Charles finds Raven in his kitchen, having snuck in. She is hungry and is trying to steal food from the fridge when Charles catches her.

Rather than admonish her, Charles tells her that she need not steal anymore; that, in fact, she can live with him. This act of kindness sets the tone for his character throughout the film (and the sequel, Days of Future Past). He shows empathy to others, and we like him for it.

Thank You

Thank you for reading these blog posts on how to create a likeable protagonist immediately. I hope you have enjoyed them and found them interesting and helpful.

What do you think makes an instantly likeable protagonist?

Paul

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