The Likeable Female Lead

According to what I've been reading, it's important for characters to be likeable: "easy to like," "agreeable," ...

According to what I've been reading, it's important for characters to be likeable: "easy to like," "agreeable," "evoking empathic or sympathetic feelings."

Here's the question: What makes a female character likeable? (Also spelled likable, but that looks entirely too much like lickable so I'm holding on to that "e.")

Coming up with male characters isn't all that difficult for me. Maybe because my household overflows with an excess of testosterone and Y chromosomes.

IMHO, A likeable male character must possess an honorable heart (without being a stuffy legalistic prude). He is strong and confident (without being an arrogant bully). He's protective (without being a control freak). He's an overcomer, not a victim. He's good at whatever he does, whether it's piracy on the high seas or crunching numbers in Quickbooks. He must be kind to dogs and children and love his mother (unless she  was negligent, abusive, or otherwise unworthy). All of this is mixed together with a dark hint of danger, like the spicy swirl in a loaf of cinnamon bread. His looks aren't even all that important, as long as he has the heart of a hero. Sound about right?

However, when I think about whether or not my female heroines are likeable, I draw a blank. Is the female so diverse, so complex, that there isn't a single, overarching "likeable" model? How do I know if she's likeable or not?

What do you think? What are the essential qualities of a likeable female character?

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  1. I like my female leads sassy, but I've found I have to be careful with a Christian audience about who she is sassy with. They still want her to be respectful to an elders or authorities. A trick I've found is, whether she's a Christian in the beginning or not, focus on her giftings for at least the first three chapters. Let us get glimpses of her problems and struggles, but don't go too deep into her weaknesses until we like her.

    I think a likeable female charcter should be strong, independent, able to think for herself, but with a soft feminine side as well.

  2. oooh, this is a tough one for me. My character borders on being hard to like for a few people. I have to make sure the reader can feel empathy for her and appreciate her

  3. I like my female leads sassy, too, and I've had a few of those "she's hard to like" comments from judges.
    The problem is, when I think "likeable" female, I think of the female I'd LIKE to be. She's a lot more like Katherine (the Shrew) than Juliet. Seems most inspys are looking for that "sweet" heroine. Hmm. Perhaps this is part of my social problem. : )

  4. I agree Niki - my instinct would be to describe the woman I want to be. What about letting the female character be who you are? She will probably be easier for readers to relate to than the unrealistic woman you want to be.

  5. Hmm according to script writers main characters need to actually do some things throughout the story to keep the audience interested enough to continue caring about the story. Like the term "saving a cat" fits here if the character doesn't have any noble traits people begin to stop rooting for him or her. There have to be some events written in to create emotions in the audience..Donald Miller talked about studying under screenwriters as he is making a movie out of 1 of his books right now. Can't recall the specs but it was really interesting the books he read etc he might have mentioned these books by name in his last book. I saw him speak in person and haven't snagged the book from Carter's library yet to read it! As far as a likeable female, I think authenticity draws people. An honest, strong woman with the capacity for tenderness appeals to me. Having background of past struggles and woundings and then seeing how those have shaped her responses presently also develops intimacy between the audience and char. We can begin to understand why she responds to life the way she does etc....

  6. Heather~
    I don't mind giving the heroine my weaknesses (too bad she can't KEEP them)! I guess the struggle I have with that is that I don't FEEL likeable, does that make sense? Silly, I know.

  7. Paige~
    Terrific suggestion about the screenwriters. They use those bits of scenes to get us attached to the characters, even when we don't necessarily LIKE them at the outset. Like Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman."
    And then it does all come back to motivation... when we understand the motive behind the actions, we can have compassion FOR the actions, even if we think the character is being a ding-dong!

  8. Great post Niki! I like characters who are quirky but not annoying. Not too perfect..


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