1. The Earth Angel. So fucking perfect all the fucking time, until you just want to smash their imaginary face in. This character is sometimes known as the Mary Sue, but that’s fucking sexist and also ignores the term’s origins in fan fiction. So I’m going with Earth Angel, because this character, whether male, female, another gender, or entirely genderless, is so goddamn perfect that they stop the story dead in its tracks. Nothing ever happens that they can’t fix perfectly, with no consequences or fucking it up or accidental deaths or anything. Snore.
2. The Psychopath. Dead, emotionless, usually bad-ass, and completely in control. I don’t know how this became a thing—though I’m looking hard in your direction, American Psycho—but it is creepy as hell. If your protagonist relentlessly mows down others in order to get their own way, then I’m probably rooting for the villain.
This doesn’t mean characters can’t be selfish. Selfishness is part of being human, and a healthy amount of self-interest drives characters to make interestingly poor choices. But a dead-eyed hustler who uses other people as a means to an end and then discards them without a second thought? Someone put a scorpion in their Armani jacket, will you?
3. The Lump. Need a character who does something? Look elsewhere. This often-found problematic protagonist never actually does anything. Instead, they’re relentlessly shoved around the story by other characters, like a leaf on storm-force winds. They might as well be a camera lens for the reader to see the story, an dispassionate observer of the events. The good news is their dead weight will be enough to drag the Sack of Crappy Protagonists into the briny depths.
4. The Emo Sad-Bag. We get it. You’re fucked up. You hurt. But, for the love of Christ’s most holy butthole, do you have to keep talking about it? Or thinking about it? Or generally sitting around like a mopey sack of crap, looking in mirrors and sighing wistfully?
Into the sack. Try not to drown in your own bravely-held-back tears before we get to the shore.
5. The Idiot. I cannot deal with stupid protagonists. Short-sighted is fine; bright but not as smart as they think they are is even better. But genuinely stupid, to the point of making bad choices for no goddamn reason at all other than the author needed a way to move the plot along? Get in the sa—actually. You don’t go in the sack. The lazy author who created you goes in the sack.
What about you? What protagonists can you not abide?
*As always, your mileage may vary. Someone out there must love psychopath characters, or they wouldn’t keep getting written.
9 thoughts on “Protagonists I Would Like To Put In A Sack And Drown*”
All the ones that you said, plus the Blank Heads – those protagonists who are vaguely described and barely have a personality. So although they’re making decisions and having opinions, you just can’t shake the feeling that they were deliberately designed with a hole in their faces where readers are supposed to put their heads and pretend they’re in the story,
I was going to add The Mask as a category, but I couldn’t think of an example besides Twilight. Maybe I’ve missed them in my reading.
The Sudden and Unreasonable Shift protagonist – the character whose been THIS WAY all of their life/first half of story, then shifts suddenly to a completely different person just because some one fucking thing happened that dictated things would be better if they changed. My entire ass. People don’t change that easily/quickly.
Also characters that are just all over the place with their personalities, one dimensional or cliche, but that’s just pure laziness/lack of skill on the writer’s part.
I prefer characters who see that things would be better, but then argue and fight the change for the rest of the book. One, more realistic, and two, just more damn interesting.
I just read “The Sociopath Next Door” to be able to write the villain better. Creepy but real, and 1 on 25 is such a person. “Gone Girl” is such a character.
It’s different for villains. Even then, I feel that too much ‘cold, emotionless pod person’ is boring.
What it did for me is to explain the “why”
Haha!! About the earth angel…so true! I once read a novel set in ancient Egypt where main character, a eunuch, could do practically anything, from being the accountant, the healer, to being the perfect bowman etc ( you get the point and I can’t remember the rest). Anyway, it was terrible. Everyone was too perfect and visually stunning, I was sort of hoping that someone would wake up with a bad case of warts 😦 Oh, and the bad guy, the pharaoh or something didn’t have a redeemable quality.
Considering he was a eunuch, I’m going to bet there was at least one thing he couldn’t do.