A friend posed a question to me today: how do you make your characters likable?
To me, likability is a lot less important than understanding WHY characters do what they do. Someone might not be nice, moral or even a good person, but generally, if I understand why a person is going after their goal, I'm going to give them a chance. Also, the more primal the motivation, the better. We tend to want to root for people who are fighting for:
1. SURVIVAL. It's the most basic desire on earth. Drop us in a hurricane and we'll follow just about anybody trying to get out. Same with medical shows. Are they going to live or die?
2. LOVE. It's every romantic comedy and many B-stories, and is completely universal. We've all been there. We all want to find love.
3. FAMILY. We've all got one, and most of us would do just about anything for them.
4. TRUTH AND JUSTICE. We want the good guys to win and the bad guys to lose. We want to believe that truth and justice exist. It's every legal drama, every cop show, every ERIN BROKOVICH-type story of fighting the man.
Now, I don't think any of these are necessities in your story - but they make it really easy for us to root for people, whether those people are "likable" or not.
On a similar note, it can be challenging when our characters make unconventional choices - but it can also be interesting. When Nancy in WEEDS needs money to support her family, she turns to drug dealing. She could have gotten a job as a secretary and moved into a smaller house - but she didn't. She could have chosen a profession that didn't put her children at risk. Sometimes it's not easy to like her - but on the flipside, her story is also a lot more interesting. Would we want to see the story about the secretary? Probably not. In Nancy's case I think the balance comes from A) the show's quirky tone B) how we see, in other ways, that she really does love her children, and C) that she often gets what she deserves after she makes mistakes.