Here I'd like to highlight seven more techniques you can imitate to curry favor for your own difficult protagonist.
6. Fitch grounds this off-beat character in familiar domestic bliss:
She opened the door, threw her key in the red bowl, and called out, “Hey, Michael?”7. Then, a one-word sentence:
Silence.Uh-oh, what’s wrong? We learn that Michael, for the first time ever, had needed “space” to paint and has left for a few days.
8. In this next excerpt, from backstory, remembered sensory images create intensity. The last one—an incomplete fragment—causes the reader some discomfort. The absence of those images now suggests emptiness. Plus, Fitch achieves relationship by proxy: Michael had loved Josie, so we can, too.
She held on to him, her eyes closed, drinking in his smell, pine and moss and some peculiar chemistry of his own, that she craved the way an addict craved freebase. She could lick him like candy. He held her for the longest time, crushing her to him, his scratchy beard.9. We learn that Josie is capable of taking action to get what she wants: if Michael doesn’t call soon, she’s going after him.
10. We learn that Josie is unprepared for the challenges to come when she describes the artifice in one of Michael's paintings: he's pictured her by the stove but he was the cook, she only knew how to heat soup.
11. Josie’s reaction when the phone rings is immediate, and speaks louder than inner monologue:
Flinging herself out of bed so fast her head reeled, she got to the phone and grabbed it before the third ring. “Michael, thank God, I—”
12. We’re pretty sure this won’t be Michael calling, and yet we hope we’re wrong when we hear: “Excuse me, this is Inspector Brooks…” At this moment we readers know we are fully on board.
To invite your reader to bond with an unlikable protagonist, reveal the tender heart of that character’s inner conflict and set the hook by making those feelings relatable through your use of setting, well-chosen inner monologue, sense imagery, and events from their everyday world. Then reel us in while moving, sentence by sentence, toward the inciting incident.
Do you have an unlikable protagonist? How have you made him/her relatable?
Kathryn Craft specializes in developmental editing at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and editing service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right."