Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don't Let Your Protagonist Be a Loser

Currently Reading: "Book of a Thousand Days" (again) by Shannon Hale. Actually, just finished it yesterday but I'm still basking in it's glory.  

When I read a book, I want a main character I can like and relate to, at least in some way. But occasionally I come across a protag who is so completely unlikeable that the whole book/movie/TV show is ruined. See my previous post for an example.

So, as promised, here is the definitive list of what makes a protagonist likeable or hateable.*  Obviously, there are a lot of gray areas and overlapping traits. And a protag need not have ALL of these to be successful, but it's good food for thought.


-A desire to do what's right even though they make many mistakes. Which also requires a basic knowledge of right and wrong. They have to recognize their own mistakes.

-Some level of underlying kindness or humanity.

-Have a backbone or spirit, even if it takes a while to reveal itself. Someone who, in the end, is able to rise to the challenge.

-Tend to be true to themselves, even if finding their way there is a long and winding road.

-Sense of humor. Every reader wants to smile occasionally.

-Some level of vulnerability. Too perfect and the reader can't relate to them.

-Depth, they can't be one dimensional or they are boring. I want to know what goes on beneath their public face.

-Have intelligence or curiosity. Not that they have to be Einstein--there are MANY other kinds of intelligence besides book-smarts or scientific genius!

-They must be written well enough that the reader is able to sympathize with them and care about them. If not, there's no point in reading the book.

Hateable  And I'm NOT talking about the antagonist or villain, but the main character.

-So completely selfish that they do whatever they want to get what they want with no thought of how it might affect others.

-Involved in a wishy-washy love triangle. A girl loves Boy A but then meets Boy B and then drags both boys along forever because she can't make up her fragile mind. And what guy worth having would put up with that?

-Underlying cruelty.

-Self-absorbed and overly whiny. Everyone has problems, and the protag better have some too or where's the story? But too much indulgence in self-pity is a turn off.

-No sense of priorities based on a moral code. Not everyone shares the same moral code, but a protag with ALL the wrong priorities is hard to like.

This is the list I came up with. What are some characteristics that make you love or hate a protagonist? Who are some protagonists that you love or hate?

*Based completely on my own opinion.   :)

1 comment:

  1. I loved Book of a Thousand Days! I might have to go back and read it again, too. That's a great list - and very insightful! As for me, it's hard to add to that list, but as an off-shoot of intelligence and depth, I love it when the main character has some trait or talent that I admire, and they either used it well, or developed it throughout the story. I guess that's like real life. I want to get to know people who have admirable talents or traits, and find out how they got there.