What's Not to Like?

Truth is, I don’t find perfect people too interesting—though to be fair, I’ve never known any.

Nor do I care for righteous, holier-than-thou preachy people.

And don’t bother me with a syrupy sweet goody goody who can do no wrong.

I like ‘em flawed and funny and smart. And apparently, so do most of us.


My editor recently remarked on the importance of a likable protagonist, particularly when she is going to be a series character. So I have been considering the qualities I look for in people to label them “likable.” And it’s not what it would appear on the surface.

One of my all-time favorite TV characters is Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House, who is at first glance the antithesis of likability. He verbally bludgeons everyone with whom he comes into contact. His arrogance is boundless, as is his self-absorption. He rarely exhibits empathy or kindness or compassion. What’s to like?

But we do. We admire to his intelligence, his skill, his abilities, and the fact that he uses those talents for good instead of evil. We enjoy to his acerbic wit. He says things we wish we could come up with and find the courage to say. Though he doesn’t display it in an obvious way, House is loyal to his team, the closest thing to friends he has. A brief scene every so often convinces us that beating within that tortured soul is a good heart, and we stick with him in anticipation of its emergence.

Side note: I'm sure everyone else in the world knows this and I was too daft to see the connection, but I just discovered that House’s character was created as a medical mirror image of Sherlock Holmes. In hindsight, it’s obvious. House/Holmes. Wilson/Watson. Keen powers of deduction in cases no one else can solve. Drug addiction. Residence at 221B Baker Street (face palm—duh), and so much more. Now I need to watch the series again.

On the novel side,  I have fallen in love with John Sandford’s series protagonist Lucas Davenport. Though he softens as the series progresses, he is a fundamentally aggressive, take-no-crap, vigilante cop who believes the end is much more important than the means. But the “end” is always in the service of justice. Readers don’t mind him taking the law into his own hands. Plus, he’s witty and charming. What’s not to love?

Same with Sue Grafton’s private eye Kinsey Millhone. We admire her smarts, her cleverness, her loyalty. And her quirks. She is often conflicted, in some ways emotionally stunted, damaged by her past. She is far from perfect, far from sweet. But she gains insight throughout her journey, and she quests toward what is right, good, fair.

When I consider the people I am drawn to in the real world, it’s much the same. The people I enjoy most have depth, eccentricity, passion. Though I would cringe if any of them went around killing criminals in the name of justice, I can sense that potential in many of them. I like them because they’re not perfect, but they’re always trying to be better. 

And they almost always have a superior sense of humor. It’s critical.

After all this analysis, I re-examined Callie Cassidy, the protagonist of my upcoming Rock Creek Village Mystery, and I believe she fits the bill. I find her tenacious, humorous, flawed—interesting. She has made mistakes in her life, but she owns them and wants to grow into a loyal and loving friend, daughter, mother. She is a cynical optimist, an outgoing introvert, a hard worker, a fun person. Her friends and family members rally around her and like her, as do I.

I hope you will like her too.

Lori HerbstComment