Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Protagonist Doesn't Have to be Perfect

Image by Susan, via Flickr
I watched the movie adaptation of Brooklyn the other night. In it, the protagonist snubbed someone. I admit the person snubbed could get on anyone's nerves. Still, the charitable thing to do would have been to be nice to that person. The snub made me lose some respect for the protagonist.

Since up to that point I really liked her, a dilemma presented itself. Could I be charitable enough to forgive her shortcomings? If I didn't, wouldn't I be following her bad example?

When I thought about it, I realized real people aren't perfect, so why should I expect a book or movie person to be ideal? If a fictional person is too perfect, that can be just as irritating as one who slips up.

Still, there's only so much I'll forgive about a book or movie protagonist. Once that line is crossed, I'm very disappointed.

I can't tell you exactly when or how that will happen, because I never know. If an author or script writer is adept at presenting motives or excuses for behavior, or even presents erratic behavior in a fascinating way, I'll go along for the ride.

All I can advise is, when creating a protagonist, consider the pros and cons of that character's behavior. Make sure to take into account your prospective audience. Then, decide how real you want that person to be. Going into deep point of view is one way to achieve that end. For more about deep point of view, see this post by Heidi M. Thomas.



Experience Morgan Mandel's diversity and versatility. Check Out Her Standalone Romantic Comedy,  Girl of My Dreams, the romantic comedy series, Her Handyman, and A Perfect Angel. For Mystery/Suspense, try Killer Career or Two Wrongs. For the small town of Deerview series: Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? and Christmas   Carol.Websites:Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.ComTwitter:@MorganMandel

18 comments :

  1. One of my (ultimately) favourite storylines plays out across a huge trilogy and involves a character I hated to start off with - by Book 3 she had evolved so completely I almost couldn't believe she was the same character. It was masterfully done. The trilogy is The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb.

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    1. A skillful author can provide an arc of growth for a character. Still, some hook needs to be present to make a reader keep reading on.

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    2. I think what made this work was having a huge cast where this particularly annoying character was just one bit of grit in the salad (to begin with). Her redemption arc was well-earned.

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  2. To be real, protagonists must, like all of us, be flawed, imperfect, inconsistent. The flip side is that villains must also be complex rather than cardboard cutouts. Even the brutal drug king might be gentle with his kids and the dedicated social worker might yell at her husband. This is what makes characters come alive, that we can see the real world in them.

    I get lauded and lambasted for insisting on three dimensional characters in my thrillers, a genre sometimes better known for cartoon heroes and villains.

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  3. This is good, Morgan. It's a fine line, isn't it. Even though my heroes are often imperfect, it seems readers want the heroine to be likable. Anything she does "unlikeable" might cause a comment.

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    1. Very true. The gals seems to need higher standards.

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  4. We tried to watch a Showtime series available for free on Prime this weekend, but all of the characters were horrible people. We couldn't find anyone to root for and gave up.

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    1. I'm curious which series, Diana.

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    2. I don't have Showtime, but wonder which series.

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  5. This is such a good post in light of my writing my post and agreeing with you. I did see Brooklyn and loved it. Obviously, I didn't catch the snub because I don't remember it. Maybe I would have done the same thing. I don't think characters should be perfect. They should be real, and we all know no one is perfect. :-)

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    1. There was this one character whom no one liked, and the heroine was stuck going somewhere with her, then ignored her and ditched her.

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  6. I mostly agree with you, Morgan. Characters with flaws are the most interesting, and it's hard to predict which flaws readers will accept and which will make them through the book across the room. Obviously, the good guys should be kind to children and pets, but beyond that it gets murky. A little reckless driving seems to be okay as is a teeny white lie. Beyond that, I'm not brave enough to find out. Chicken, that's me!

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    1. Yes, kindness to children and pets always go a long way for good and bad characters.

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  7. Good post, Morgan! Thanks for the mention of my post!

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    1. Glad you like my post, Heidi. Yours was great and that's why I mentioned it. I just started another book and stopped, because the author started talking to me, instead of being the character. It's a shame, since the book started out good, but I couldn't connect then.

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  8. This is an excellent post, Morgan. (I followed the link to Heidi's article, also very relevant.) You've made me stop and think as I begin a final review of my novel because my antagonist is not at all likable. I've provided some insight as to why he is like he is, but perhaps not enough. I'll be looking at that with critical eyes now. Thanks for the reminder.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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