Musings: On Protagonists and Likeability

Pre-writing this because I’ll be out of town this weekend.

Not every protagonist has to be a shining beacon of morality. I prefer my characters — all characters — flawed and therefore interesting. But every protagonist has to be, at the very least, tolerable.

If a protagonist is unlikable, you have to work a lot harder to get people to avoid putting your book down and walking away after one chapter — and that goes double for if your viewpoint is first person, because every sentence is filtered through the lens of a person your audience dislikes. If your protagonist is intolerable, however — if she pisses readers off so badly they want nothing to do with her after a few pages — you’re not going to be able to retain readers for very long.

I personally don’t like Eileen in many moments of Wolfbound. She’s weak, she’s timid, she lets her life go by as though she wasn’t an active participant in it, as though it had nothing to do with her. But her voice isn’t intolerable, and these flaws are treated as flaws, areas where she needs to grow over the course of the book (and series). Hopefully, I’ve done my job well and she’s likeable.

Sookie Stackhouse I found tolerable at first. Like Eileen, she had major blind spots in her worldview — she didn’t seem to realize how judgmental she was being of other people, but given this was a story where she’d end up dating a vampire, I figured she’d learn tolerance over time. But the more I read, the more her hypocritical worldview grated on me. So it’s not okay for the vampire to do things that vampires do, because he needs to change to fit her, but it’s perfectly fine for her to flirt, do date-like things with, and even attend an orgy with someone other than her boyfriend, and he needs to be more tolerant of her lifestyle? Lolwut? Her constant drooling over every male in the series didn’t help — I don’t want to hear about how the fifth guy that morning is so attractive, I want to hear about what the vampires are getting up to and what she’s going to do about it. Eventually, I put down the series and didn’t come back.

John, the protagonist of The Hunt, has a very distinctive outlook on life that, once again, is far from perfect. I can only hope he’s tolerable. I like to think so — I personally like him more than Eileen. He’s a bit slow and rather singleminded, but he’s a lot older and has been around the block a few times, so he’s not infuriatingly uninformed.

And Marie… well, I haven’t quite pinned down her voice yet. 🙂

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