Die, Protagonist, Die. I Don’t Want You To Ever Be Happy.

So I’ve been reading books lately.  Good for me.

The problem is that I totally hated a couple of the books that I read.  Why?  Unlikable protagonists. I had a hard time rooting for the main characters when I found them to be…despicable is far too harsh of a word.  Unlovely. Whiny and selfish. I didn’t want them to get what they wanted.  It wasn’t like they were anti-heroes; they were just hateful protagonists.  I think that the authors thought the protags were being strong-willed and independent, but I just wanted them to die and was upset when they staggered away unscathed.  Ugh. Boo.

What makes you root for a protagonist?  Or, even more importantly, against them?

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18 thoughts on “Die, Protagonist, Die. I Don’t Want You To Ever Be Happy.

  1. Yeah, I want to be made to LIKE someone who seems unlovable, or I just want to throw the book across the room. I’m with you on the whiney and selfish.

    That said, I like both Fitzgerald and Joyce, who wouldn’t know a likable protagonist if it bit their nose off. So I guess there just has to be something about the writing/truth of a story to keep me there if I hate the jerk of a protag.

  2. The exact same reason. I was not sold on Twilight (New Moon mostly) because Bella was so whiny and depressed. The depression I got, but it was so overdone I think. It just got old. So yeah… (Just for the record, I liked the series overall. It’s just not on my favorites list. It might have been if Bella had been a likable character.)

  3. I like strong protagonists, but not of the invincible (physically, mentally, or emotionally) variety.

    I can’t stand overly snarky protagonists. I don’t know what’s up with rude MCs who think one unkind thing after another. I don’t like people like that in real life; I certainly won’t like them in literature.

    I love characters with believable strengths and weaknesses, and a character arc that pushes them to transform, to grow, to become something more than they were when they began.

  4. I’ve had the same experience with a couple of books, and plenty of movies. I’ll root for a protagonist under just about any circumstances, so long as they can avoid pettiness, conceitedness, and/or “douchebaggery”.

  5. Usually I can’t go on reading is the character is unlikeable. Basically, if you can’t in some way put yourself in the characters place and sort-of be them, it is a lousy read. I totally understand what you mean. I congratulate you if you keep reading. For me, I move on.

  6. I don’t think it should be a question of whether or not the character is “likable,” but how thorough a job the author has done of engaging the reader with the character. There are people in the world who are whiny, sarcastic, mean, sadistic, dumb, selfish, etc., and their stories are no less important than anyone else’s; the job of the writer is to make us care.

  7. I’m inclined to agree with the previous poster (Brady) on this issue. I’ve been in adoration over extremely unpleasant characters. But that is only because the author wrote with a certain grace. They handled the unpleasantness of the character with precision and thoughtfulness.

    No thought of the characters psyche was wasted in some of these types of stories. The difference is all about the wording the author puts in the story.

  8. I don’t mind cocky characters perse – in the beginning. In my books, the cocky character is usually overcompensating for some character flaw or whatever. But I may not explain that until a few chapters later.

    I will keep reading if the protagonist is a jerk only to find out WHY. If at the end it isn’t explained, then I’ll be dissapointed of course.

    I guess I’m weird – even if the book is bad I just CAN’T put it down. I HAVE to know how it ended or whatever. It bugs me if I don’t. (Seriously, haunts my dreams!)

  9. I root for the protagonists I can relate to, that have struggles realistic or fantastical that I can imagine how I’d react to them.

    I don’t always like the underdog type protagonists though. I like a strong character, not necessarily a likeable one but I have to be able to like at least something about them. They have to be someone I’d want to meet in person if they were real.

  10. I have to actually care what happens to them – some make it very hard to – and to be able to relate to them in some way. I like strong characters with redeemable pasts and flaws. I love all those dark, hidden pasts that they have to overcome and grow from.

  11. I’m with you Harley, i HAVE to finish a book no matter how bad.. well, almost always. the few exceptions live in eternal perdition.

    I think that bland, jerkface, boringly-perfect protagonists are mistaken for memorable characters by undiscerning readers.

    When we were younger we all loved reading the “wish-fulfillment” protagonist, no matter how cardboard thin his character. We just wanted to see him turn into a dragon, eat the bullies and carry off the girl. (whatever)

    The snarky protag that has no growth, who is always cynical and cutting affects certain readers who still want the “wish-fulfillment” who themselves often are cynical and sarcastic and bitter.

    And selfish characters will always resonate with selfish people who have given themselves license to be selfish. (as opposed to selfish people who secretly or not-so-secretly loath their own selfishness)

    I’m not saying snarky characters are lame, but when they are snarky just so the author can drip their own cynical venom, I find myself counting adverbs or thinking “how would I write this?” Which is not what an author wants his readers doing.

    and… Am I the only one who giggled and averted my eyes from Natalie Sin’s comment?

  12. I’ll finish a book, too, even if it’s absolutely horrid. It’s the curse of being a fast reader.

    The up side is that I realize what doesn’t work for me, and hopefully I can make sure that won’t happen in my own stories.

  13. Whiny is no way for a protagonist to behave. Some whining is okay but the whole book? I agree that it would old…fast.

    Some of my favorite protagonist characteristics are humor, self-deprecating honesty, real fear and vulnerability. And I always love a female who is completely kick-ass.

  14. Mercedes, this is a great question!!

    For me when I’m reading a book if the MC is strong in their convictions, or is fighting for something they believe in (whether I believe in it or not) it makes them seem more relateble.

    I’m not a fan of girly girls, who like to wait for someone to come and rescue them. It frankly makes me rethink reading the book all together (which was interesting when I was preggers with my daughter because all I managed to read were Chick-Lits… not bad, but some of them *shutters*)

    I like a character who can take care of themselves. I like it when they are able to figure out what’s going on and then use their brains to do something to change the situation for them.

    Ah, this may be vague, I dunno. But I’m not too picky. If the MC can kick ass in what they are trying to accomplish, then it’s good by me.

  15. If there is enough character development to actually CHANGE the character into something better in the end, then maybe there is some worthwhile reading in there, (AND the whininess is not an oversight by the author, but an actual characteristic of the protagonist 🙂

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