One thing I’ve said in terms of the word likable, and Netflix got mad at me for saying it: Fuck likability. I don’t give two shits if someone likes my characters. I do care whether they’re attracted to them. And there’s a big difference. I don’t mean sexually attracted. I mean attracted so that you can’t keep your eyes off them, you’re invested in them. He’s not likable, but you have to know where he ends up, you have to follow his path. I’m interested in the tension where one moment you might like them and the next you abhor them, or maybe simultaneously.
Beau Willimon, screenwriter for House of Cards, in a panel discussion covered by The Atlantic.
This is what I mean when I say characters don’t have to be “likable”, but they do have to be “sympathetic” (the word sympathisch in German has a slightly different meaning from our “sympathetic”, so I think that’s why I choose that term over another one, such as “attractive”). How else would a character like Humbert Humbert be a protagonist?