One of the best ways to make your hero likable is to make him or her an underdog. That means every villain has far more power than the hero, which makes the hero’s goal seemingly impossible. The more power the villain has and the more admirable the hero’s goal, the more likable the hero. So the formula for likability looks like this:
Underdog hero + Admirable hero goal = Likability
Look at a movie like “Eddie the Eagle,” which is about a British man who is a horrible athlete but who dreams of competing in the Olympics. Strangely, he decides to pick ski jumping, one of the scariest and most dangerous winter sports around. Not only does Eddie have to overcome his own lack of athletic ability, but he also must face the British Olympic Committee that refuses to sponsor him. Then he has to face the other athletes from other countries who are far more skilled than he is.
Eddie has an admirable goal of competing in the Olympics, he’s an underdog with far less power than the villains around him, so he’s more likable as a result.
Now think of the heroes in “Thelma and Louise.” Both are lower middle class woman trapped in dead end relationships. Both live in a male-dominated world where the men (the police, con artists, and rapists) have far more power than they do. Both simply want to be free to live their own lives. They have an admirable goal and are clearly an underdog, so both are likable.
Likable heroes pursuing admirable goals help make stories more compelling because we want to see the hero achieve their dream and we have no idea how the hero can possibly overcome the massive power the villain can use against him or her.
Always think of ways to make your hero likable. Give him or her an admirable goal, give him or her far weaker powers than the villain, and finally, make your hero memorable in some way with either a flaw or a unique trait that gains our respect.
One positive unique trait is John McClane’s fear of flying in “Die Hard.” Even if you’re not afraid of flying, you can understand the fear of flying.
One negative unique trait is the hero in “Nightcrawler,” a despicable man who cheats his way to success by capturing video footage of crime scenes so he can sell them to the TV news studios. Even though this hero is sleazy, he’s highly intelligent and his ability to talk his way out of situations is fascinating.
Make your hero an underdog, give your hero an admirable goal, and give your hero an interesting characteristic. That will make your hero likable and that’s one huge step in getting an audience to want to follow your story to see how it ends.