This is actually a post from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds, so it’s 25 reasons he hates the protagonist. There’s probably some overlap with reasons I personally detest a protagonist, though I’m not sure I could come up with 25 reasons myself. Maybe four or five major reasons. You know what, I’ll try that at the end of this post. Regardless, let’s take a look at Chuck’s list:
— Lack of agency. Yes, fine. This won’t make me hate the protagonist; it will make me not care about the protagonist and quite possibly DNF the book. Chuck points at a couple of different types of problems in this same basic ballpark.
— No redemptive qualities. I’m on board with this one. Actually, for me, the protagonist needs to have plenty of redemptive qualities, not just one nice quality in a mass of awfulness.
I’m not sure the best term is “redemptive.” I’m not sure what the best term is. Certainly not “nice.” The protagonist definitely does not need to be nice. Nicholas Valiarde is one of my all-time favorite characters in fantasy, and his daughter Tremaine is even better. I could probably name a dozen great characters who are favorites of mine but aren’t particularly nice. Kaoren Ruuel, say. While thinking of AKH, also Aristide Couerveur, especially in The Bones of the Fair.
But moving on, let’s see what else is in this extensive list of reasons to hate the protagonist.
—Steps across the wrong line. Oh, yes, that’s for sure. No killing a pet dog. Don’t care why. Even killing a dog like Cujo isn’t something I tolerate very easily.
–Eye-rolling stupidity. I seem to have mentioned this fairly often recently. It’s not a deal-breaker for me necessarily, depending on my mood. But I don’t think a book can rate above mediocre if the plot is mainly driven by the hopelessly dense protagonist failing to see the obvious.
Various other things, but I think Chuck is starting to reach well before the end — hitting problems with plotting or whatever rather than specifically with the protagonist. Like here:
These Angles Don’t Add Up — I don’t want a boring character, obviously, and yet I do demand some degree of internal consistency. The things she does need to add up. They need to come from a place inspired by her fears, her motivations, her past. If we know all along she’s got a lady-boner for revenge, then it’s a hard pill to swallow when she continues to perform actions against that revenge. But it falls to little things, too — she got shot in the leg but doesn’t limp, she’s from Philadelphia but doesn’t know what a cheesesteak is, she’s got black hair one minute and the next minute she’s a sentient recliner named “Dave.” You know. Little things.
That’s a lack of continuity problem, not specifically a problem with the protagonist. This isn’t the sort of thing that makes you hate the character, it’s the sort of thing that makes you roll your eyes at the author.
And some of the things he mentions — characters who are too perfect — that’s not necessarily a problem for me. If the author handles the perfect character properly, that can be something I really enjoy. I enjoy uber-competence, but the linked book offers a protagonist who is just centered in a golden glow of perfection. Somehow this works.
Regardless, obviously many funny bits in the linked post; by all means click through if you have a moment.
Okay, Four Reasons I Hate Your Protagonist:
1) The protagonist is an awful person. I don’t much care if there are redemptive qualities or not. If the protagonist is basically awful, no thanks.
2) The protagonist is not just dense, but eye-rollingly impulsive. Probably angsty as well. Highly emotional stupid characters who leap into self-defeating action are a definitely DNF for me, even if they manage to somehow come out all right afterward.
3) The protagonist is ineffectual. While the world falls apart, the protagonist stands aside wringing her hands. Occasionally she timidly tries something, but it fails and she retreats into worry and hand-wringing once more. I can’t stand her. I’m thinking of a particular book here, and although I may be exaggerating this quality in the protagonist, this is the feeling I had most of the way through the book.
4) The protagonist is self-destructive and makes terrible choices that anybody could see are terrible and therefore destroys his life. Wow, I see the book I’m thinking of here is book 1 of a six-book series. I can’t imagine going on to book 2 after what happens in book 1. Here is my post after I first read this book. I said this:
I also mean the sort of books in which the good guy loses. I mean really loses, so that his life is thoroughly screwed up at the end. Worse: the sort of story where the good guy does it to himself, so that you, as the reader, can see everything going wrong while the protagonist’s mistakes pile up and then come crashing down on him and everyone around him with all the power and inevitability of a tsunami.
Yeah, if that is happening to the protagonist in a novel, I really do not want to go along for the ride. At all. If I finish the book, it will be because I can’t believe the author is really doing this to their protagonist. If it winds up that no, the protagonist really does destroy his life, I’m never touching another book by that author, ever.
I’m not sure there is anything else that makes me loathe a protagonist to the point I will drop the book in revulsion and back away. Those are the big four.
How about you all? What will make you loathe the protagonist so much you can’t stand to read the book?