Engaging Characters: Their Likability & The Longevity of Their Novels

It’s always interesting coming across studies like these, that combine psychology with the interest in reading. After all, the best characters are the most complicated, the ones we, secretly, love to psychoanalysise.

The Misfortune Of Knowing

What attributes help a writer develop engaging characters?

To explore this question, researchers at McMaster University, York University, and the University of Toronto designed a preliminary study in which subjects (students enrolled in an intro psych course, obviously) wrote brief character sketches based on a head-and-shoulders photograph of a man.* Then, a second set of students rated how interesting, likeable, and complex the characters were.

In the results, published last month in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, the researchers found — unsurprisingly— that character sketches written by people who expressed an inclination to write fiction were more interesting and complex than the sketches written by people who didn’t express an inclination to write. While the characters produced by self-described creative writers were more interesting and complex, they were not more likable, causing the researchers to conclude:

[L]ikability of characters was distinct from other aspects of an engaging…

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