Readers do not respond to characters in the same manner that they respond to real people. If a protagonist annoys other people in the novel, showing the reader the interior of this main character to establish a creditable reason for this behavior will encourage the reader to accept the annoying traits. If you go even further and link it to an intrinsic motivation for a positive goal, the reader will have some degree of empathy or even admiration for this annoying protagonist.
When we think about well- liked characters, we often recall them as physically tough, brave or stoic, and sometimes even brooding. We may remember ones who are cunning or keenly intelligent, cool, collected, or ruggedly handsome. And, most of them are male. There is a tendency to find female characters with all of these same traits as less than appealing. It’s okay if they have physical strength or high intelligence or an invincible attitude, but not all of these things. And, we definitely cannot replace their caring attitude, vulnerability, kindness to children and sweetness with these. So, I would like to propose traits that make either sex likable as a character, based on those traits we most often seek out in people in real life.
Likeable people listen, not only to their friends and family, but to business colleagues and competitors. They are also authentic, portraying themselves as nothing else than they really are. Yes, a little subterfuge is necessary, especially when dealing sophisticated villains or corrupt society. However, their normal mode of operation should be one of honesty. The reader should find the character transparent.
Likeable characters (and people) are not stuck in one time and place, unwilling to change their behavior. But they are adaptable, not just coping with change but seeking new opportunities. They also demonstrate simplicity in their lives and are usually not given to extravagance or artificial sophistication. Finally, they are grateful, willing to recognize what others have done and give thanks to those who deserve it.
Reverse these characteristics and voila, the untrustworthy and irritating antagonist appears. These people often refuse to listen to others as they are busy scheming about what they need to say. They may also refuse to admit that they don’t know or haven’t done everything. Rather than being authentic and transparent, they lie and cheat. This is made easier because they complicate the situation and add to the confusion intentionally to prevent others from seeing the truth.
However, the biggest difference between the unlikeable antagonist and the likeable protagonist is that this character refuses to even consider changing. Villains are content with their flaws.