One of my writing weaknesses seems to be creating main characters that readers don't like. I blogged about this problem back in January. Sure enough, I'm currently revising an old project, and reviewers are noticing this problem. My MC, Jo, has some emotional issues with her family that affect how she deals with everyone. How she grows past her issues is a important character arc in this story; while she does change, I need to keep readers around long enough to see her change. So I wrote a short list of my main character's strengths and weaknesses, then I made the following changes in my manuscript:
I cleaned my MC up. Well, not literally, but I toned down her cursing habit and removed a description of Jo in tattered clothes.
I made her interactions with other characters less negative. Instead of making Jo perpetually mad at the whole world, I decided to let focus her rage at her family--or at least, the ones who most deserve it. I may tweak this a bit to match up with a plot twist I came up with this afternoon.
Make other characters seem even worse. The plot twist I came up with involves her least favorite uncle using his power to manipulate Jo's life to make her do something she doesn't agree with.
So far, I've avoided a very obvious change: showing more of Jo's good traits. I haven't figured out yet how to incorporate those in the beginning, but doing so would definitely tip the balance toward the more sympathetic end of the scale.
How important is protagonist likability to you when you read?