While main protagonists in well-received novels have their share of fans, they also have their share of anti-fans, as I call them. On online venues, these anti-fans often justify their dislike for a character with reasons such as these:
1. The character is whiny or breaks down too much.
2. The character is cold and unfeeling.
3. The character doesn't make the right decisions.
4. The character is passive about decision making.
5. The character doesn't seem to know what s/he wants.
6. The character is selfish.
7. The character isn't bright.
8. The character is too judgmental.
9. The character is boring.
10. The story is too character-driven.
Notice how these common character complaints are subtle foils of each other?
Just because a character has an unlikeable characteristic, it shouldn't immediately make them an unlikeable character. I can root for a reasonably flawed character. Also taken into consideration is that I'm reading about the character within the context of the plot and setting they were developed for, and that s/he and I aren't trapped on an elevator together.
I'd often dismiss a review when a reader says they stopped reading the book after the first chapter(s) because they didn't like the character for a reason listed above, or something along those lines. Many main protagonists in books develop through the course of a story. Therefore, who a character is in the beginning of the story isn't necessarily who they are at the end of the story. (Although in some kinds of stories, certain characters don't undergo much change- for example, a sleuth in a mystery series is likely to maintain a consistent character- but for the purpose of this post, I'm going to focus on character arcs.)
I read THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett years ago. At the beginning of the story, I saw that Mary was cranky and Colin was self-pitying. I kept reading and was rewarded with seeing the two children transform. By the end of the story, Mary and Colin were not the same people they were at the beginning of the story.
Sometimes characters need flaws, especially at the beginning of the story, in order for them to demonstrate growth as the story progresses.
In my current WIP, the MC has what could be perceived as character flaws. For instance, she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. I imagine people who read the initial chapters of the book might dislike her for that very quality. But if this novel gets published (and it's a big IF), I hope people will read on and give my character a chance, and see how she evolves.
How often do you stop reading a book when you come across a main character with flaws?
Have you ever really liked a book even if you didn't enjoy the main character?