I've often heard the advice that writers should strive to create likeable characters. Unfortunately the term 'likeable' is often misunderstood to mean someone you'd want to get to know in real life. As a result, writers turn their creations into sugar sweet confectionery that's neither likeable nor realistic.
The Diviners by Libba Bray. It's a young adult book set in the 1920's. It's a wonderful read, but I'm not sure I'd want to make the main character my best friend. She's far too selfish. Oddly enough, she's likeable nonetheless. Why? Because she's interesting. She's bold and open-minded and just a little bit sassy.
Bloody Waters by Jason Franks. It's about a girl named Clarice and her rock band, Bloody Waters, as they rise to stardom with the aid of a deal done with the devil. Another fantastic read. I definitely would not want to know Clarice in real life, yet she's a fabulous character to journey with through the novel. She speaks her mind, is as rough as sandpaper, and will take out anyone who gets in her way.
The Blade Itself is his first novel. It's full of horrible people capable of doing horrible things, yet I was drawn to them anyway. He turned the sanitised fantasies into something new and engaging.
So when you hear the call for 'likeable' characters, think instead 'interesting'--characters with depth, inner conflicts and flaws. Realistic characters with no rainbows and unicorns in sight. It's the quirks that make the characters likeable and encourages readers to read more.
What stories have you read with unlikeable likeable characters? What do you think made those characters work?