I feel like this is a huge misconception among a lot of writers.
Whether your character is moral or immoral does not determine whether they are a likable character or not. Whether other characters like your character does not determine if they are a likable character or not.
When people talk about needing to write a likable protagonist, they mean the reader has to root for this character. People root for antiheroes, villains, cheaters, liars, murderers, and criminals all the time, but that doesn’t mean they would like to be friends with this person.
Of course, whether a character is unlikable or likable depends on the reader, but there’s usually a majority opinion on a character. To do this, you need a reason for the reader to like this character:
- Common Enemy: If your character and the reader have a common enemy, they will root for your character. But you need a reason for the reader to hate this enemy as well. If this enemy does something to hurt the protagonist, the reader may gravitate toward your character before they get to know them that well. Or the common enemy could just be a nasty character.
- Motive: Your character’s motive could be a reason. This goes with the common enemy. If the enemy is an oppressive government and you show that, the reader will probably root for your character’s motive to rise up.
- Emotional Connection: People love the Joker, especially Heath Ledger’s version. But we don’t feel bad for him. We don’t want him to succeed. This is because we see nothing but chaos from him. It’s fun, but there’s nothing that makes us emotionally connected to him. Then you have Batman. He’s not as interesting and people may like the Joker more than they like Batman, but we see Bruce Wayne’s life and the relationships he has with people. Therefore, Batman is likable and we root for him rather than for the Joker.
- Protagonist: But, if the Joker becomes the protagonist (like in The Killing Joke), the reader roots for him and not Batman. Putting your character in the spot as the protagonist already gives them a lift in being likable. Your protagonist would have to be extremely unlikable for the audience to root for the antagonist.
- Charisma: This is the one trait that can make many characters likable, no matter their actions (but it’s not required). Charismatic and persuasive people naturally draw others to them. They could murder someone and readers will still worship the ground they walk upon.
So yes, your characters can have negative traits and still be likable. You just have to make them interesting and give the reader a reason to like them or their story. Intricate, real characters are likable. Flat, static, negative characters are unlikable.
we need to sacrifice somebody so Ellen never dies
This is quickly becoming the Hunger Games for douchebags
Oh—you wouldn’t date a girl who’s ever been a stripper?
In that case, I wouldn’t date a guy who’s ever been to a strip club.
Oh—you wouldn’t date a girl who’s ever done porn?
In that case, I wouldn’t date a guy who’s ever watched porn.
You’re the reason we exist.
You’re the demand to our supply.
If you disdain sex workers, don’t you dare consume our labor.
As they say in the industry, “People jack off with the left hand and point with the right.”