Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Unlikable Protagonist

Most of us read books where we can somehow identify with the main character or at least feel sympathetic toward the character. What if you have an unlikable character? What makes your character unlikable? My husband is a huge science fiction fan and picked up a book whose protagonists are always perfect. They are genetically perfect. Handsome to look at, smarter and more charming than anyone else and never ever make a mistake, he dislikes the characters. Such people existed in Wrath of Khan, but at least those perfect people had greediness to mar them.

As women changed, became head of households and held down jobs heroines changed. The perfect virginal beauty without two thoughts to rub together who waited breathlessly for the much older hero to rescue her from her boring existence lost her position as heroine. Women passed over books like this because they wanted women like themselves. It was good for the heroine to have a career, a broken relationship and a backbone. As women, we preferred a female we could befriend, which leaves out the constant whiners and mean girls.

I read books for reviews with all sorts of heroines. The characters are not similar, but the majority is likable. I seldom come across a protagonist where I stop reading in disgust. This happened to me last night. The beautifully edited book held promise with its attractive cover. I wanted to like it since I just finished my most recent book and needed a new one. I couldn’t read past chapter three. The woman was amazingly selfish to both her son and everyone else in her life. Then she would whine about how she was the victim. She refused to see her father for years because she’s unhappy he remarried. She punishes him by refusing to let him have contact with his grandson. The father was an all-around great person that the fatherless boy could have benefitted from having in his life. The heroine’s behavior reminded me of a spoiled five year old. When she shows up at her father’s funeral, all she can do is complain that black makes her skin look bad. The actual point of the story was a handsome, thoughtful doctor with oodles of money spots her and falls in love with her.

I read someone else’s review that mentioned that the author employed weak, whining women who had father issues. Do we write about what we know or are familiar with? We tend to reject what we aren’t familiar with. Often historical romances are very misleading because many authors give the heroines the same rights and freedoms an average modern woman enjoys when it wasn’t actually that way.

We like characters based on our backgrounds. The book I started I had a woe is me character because she had a low wage/no skills job. I finished college while working, pregnant, divorced and had two other children under five. In other words, I don’t feel sorry for characters who whine about how hard life is. Instead, I prefer characters who do try, they might fail, but they get up and try again. I have no use for perfect characters either.

The book I could not stomach will be a favorite of women who feel like victims. They whine and pout through life waiting for their prince to make things better. News flash: he isn’t coming.

On the other hand, you have to realize some people might dislike your heroine because of her name, her appearance, even her job. Elisabeth Naughton wrote an excellent romantic suspense in Wait for Me, but I was surprised how many reviewers disliked the hero and his job. He was a pharmaceutical executive. He needed to be one for the plot to work, but many readers viewed that career in a negative light.

In the end, your main character can hamstring the entire book. I am a person who is very capable of putting down a book, but often it is with great regret. The plot was good, the settings memorable, the secondary characters quirky, but the main character stopped the story in its tracks.

In the end, you have to like your heroine/hero. It wouldn’t hurt to get input from a critique group either to see if anyone else likes her.


Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Awesome post. Simply awesome. Even when I read romances back in the late sixties, I found those weak heroines a bore. They grated on my nerves. I feel the same way about the new brand of heroes emerging who think they can talk "dirty" or disrespectful to a woman. And what gets this old woman's libber, the heroines fall for their bull. This, too, grates on my nerves. We've fought too long and hard to get where we're at to backslide into male dominance. Again, great post.

Anonymous said...

I once noticed a statistic that was like: 2/3 men/women and
1/3 men/women will get most cancers inside their life
time. But I can't remember the statistic specifically. Support me out?

My website - female mind mastery free

Ana Morgan said...

Was this a self-published book? From a lightly-edited e-publisher? Or was it from a big-name publisher?
I think I would put the book down, too. Heroines have to be likeable.

morgan said...

Hi Vonnie,
You like what you like it is simple as that. The most disappointing book I read was an old romance. The pirate returns to his island home with his new love. She finds he already has a wife. They agree to share him. Threw that book in the trash to spare any other female from reading it. LOL

morgan said...

Hi Ana Morgan,
The book I described was part of a book tour. It was a professionally done book. Most everything about it was good. It is shame that the worst person in the story was the heroine.