How To Create An Instantly Likeable Protagonist (Part I)

Making your main character (POV character) or secondary characters (non-POV characters) liked by the audience is always a good thing. The chances are, viewers will want to keep reading or watching your protagonists if they liked them. This blog post will look at different ways on how to create an instantly likeable protagonist (and by ‘instantly likeable,’ I mean from the first moment the audience meets him).

Make Him Funny

How to create an instantly likeable protagonist? Well, humour is arguably the best way to do it.

Humour naturally builds a positive impression of a character (in a story and in real life too). When a character makes his audience laugh, he is going to be liked. And the sooner you make the audience laugh, the sooner the protagonist will be liked.

Example 1 – Tyrion Lannister

In Game of Thrones: Season 1 Episode 1, we first meet Tyrion when he is in bed with a harlot. (Already, this makes us think that we might enjoy seeing him on-screen.)

As Tyrion is enjoying himself, his brother, Jaime, interrupts the fun. He tells Tyrion that their sister, Queen Cersei, is expecting him to attend the feast. Tyrion responds that he has “already started” his feast and that the woman lying with him is “the first of many courses.”

(Need I say anymore 😉.)

Example 2 – Launchpad in DuckTales: Treasure Of The Lost Lamp (1990)

Launchpad, piloting the plane… it is doubtful if he has ever been to flight school though.

This animated film opens up with Launchpad piloting his bi-plane like a maniac. It is quite an introduction and engages the audience immediately. (Plus, as it’s a children’s film the audience has a fair idea that none of the characters are going to get hurt, despite Scrooge McDuck’s understandable consternations.)

Subsequently, Launchpad (crash)lands the plane and irreparably damages some ancient ruins. When Scrooge points this out to him, Launchpad responds: “It could have been worse. It could have been something new.”

The older one gets the funnier that joke becomes. Even though he completely misses Scrooge’s point, we cannot help but like Launchpad. Moreover, we look forward to seeing what he’ll do next.

Example 3 – Jasmine in Blue Jasmine

Humour can also paint over the darker aspects of a protagonist; particularly, if he is visibly falling apart and deeply flawed. In Blue Jasmine, the titular Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arrives at her sister’s place in San Francisco from New York, looking like a glamorous wreck.

Jasmine tells her sister that she’s bankrupt due to her ex-husband’s financial improprieties, after having lived the high life. But then she adds that she flew to San Francisco first-class (as she could not bear to be in economy, duh).

The satire is brilliant. Jasmine’s wry humour enables us to (somewhat) like her, even though it’s clear that something is very wrong with her (and that she may not be entirely honest either).

Make Him Charming

In the real world, charm can win the affections of those around you in a stroke. Similarly, if you make your character smile, talk warmly, and have him make a joke, the audience will likely love him too.

Example 1 – Gandalf

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is played by the wonderful Sir Ian McKellen. Sir Ian has a natural, old-school English charm and the voice to match. He exudes all of his best traits when playing Gandalf, and he does this right from the off. As he arrives in Hobbiton, he is greeted by Frodo, who tells him that he is late. Jokingly, Gandalf responds: “A wizard is never late. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

He, as well as Frodo, proceed to laugh. The audience chuckles too; plus, we love the instant camaraderie between these characters.

how to create an instantly likeable protagonist - gandalf
Gandalf and Frodo laughing after Gandalf arrives in The Shire at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring.

Example 2 – Lucius Fox in Batman Begins

Throughout The Dark Knight Trilogy, Lucius Fox is played by the delightful Morgan Freeman. With his soothing voice, he radiates charm. He is introduced relatively late on in Batman Begins, but when we finally meet him the audience smiles.

We smile in part because he’s Morgan Freeman. But, also, because he makes a joke about how his superior, Bill Earle (Rutgar Hauer), gave him the job of running the R&D department in the basement of Wayne Enterprises as it’s a “dead end.” Subsequently, he makes some sardonic jokes; one is that Earle didn’t commission a certain type of body armour for the military because he “didn’t believe that a soldier’s life was worth $300,000.”

As always, the audience is completely taken by Fox’s (Morgan Freeman’s) charm. As a result, we want to see more of him.

Make Him Give Reasoned Advice And/Or Quality Assistance

In general, a person who provides quality assistance is seen as someone who is useful. This is because his assistance/advice is reasonable and appeals to the middle-ground.

In stories, a character who either gives reasoned advice and/or who provides quality assistance will be liked by the audience as he adds something positive to the narrative.

Example – Alfred in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman may have been a disappointing film. But the scenes between Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and his butler, Alfred (Jeremy Irons), make the film bearable. Irons has a marvelous, Shakespearean English accent, which always endears him to the audience. In addition, in Batman v Superman, he not only makes a wry joke as soon as we meet him, he provides Bruce with worthwhile advice and assistance immediately.

Irons’ Alfred pales in comparison to Michael Caine’s version of the character in the above-mentioned The Dark Knight Trilogy. Nevertheless, Irons does a pretty good job at making his character liked by the audience, despite the failures of Batman v Superman as a whole.

Make Him Want To Know What’s Out There

Mankind has a natural inclination to explore what’s out there. In medieval times, it was to explore the lands that were beyond the map; and since the latter half of the 20th-century, humans have been fascinated by outer-space and ocean exploration.

How to create an instantly likeable protagonist? For sure, a character in your story who wants to know what’s beyond his boundaries will be liked by the audience: one, he will make us want to see new, interesting places; and, two, he will want to see him challenge himself outside of his comfort zone.

Example 1 – Marilka from The Witcher

In the first episode of The Witcher, we meet a young girl called Marilka (Mia McKenna-Bruce). We take an immediate liking to her because:

  1. She’s darkly funny;
  2. She’s not afraid of Geralt (unlike everyone else around her); and
  3. She wants to see outside of her small village, Blaviken.

It is this last bit that marks her out from those around her. She wants to explore beyond all that she knows. It is just a shame that nothing comes of this for her character, as it could have made a fascinating subplot.

how to create an instantly likeable protagonist - marilka
Marilka (right) and Geralt (left) in Season 1 Episode 1 of The Witcher. It is a shame this is the only time we see Marilka in the series.

Example 2 – Frank in Sausage Party

Sausage Party is a 2016 adult-themed, anthropomorphic, animated comedy. Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) is a sausage, who has lived his entire existence in a supermarket. He dreams of leaving the supermarket to explore the Great Beyond (outside the Supermarket) with Brenda, his hot-dog-bun girlfriend. (Indeed, subtlety is in short supply in this film.)

Nevertheless, Frank’s desire to find out about the Great Beyond (an analogy to the Next World) makes him instantly relatable with the audience. This is because mankind has been curious about the world to come since the humans first graced the Earth.

That Frank is also funny (in a crude way) only adds to our enjoyment of the character. In fact, we are eager to see what he discovers and what conclusions he comes to.

To Be Continued

Thank you for reading Part I on how to create an instantly likeable protagonist. I hope you have enjoyed what you’ve read so far, and that you find the content useful.

Hopefully, you will feel the same way for Part II,


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