Protagonists I Would Like To Put In A Sack And Drown*

Goddamn it, Jacob, stop hugging me so I can go unleash a plague or some shit.

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.

The Parts Readers Skip: Cutting The Boring Shit

Fuck this, I’m out of here.

I was trundling along though my daily word count* yesterday when I reached it: the boring part.

Fuck, I don’t want to write this, I thought as I reached for my monkey skull full of bourbon and souls.** The main character’s just staring and thinking, I know it goes here, and after the Great Plotline Disaster of ’08, I’ve committed to writing mostly in order, but this part is boring.

And then it occurred to me: if it’s that fucking boring, why write it at all?

Because it has backstory, and you need to set up That Big Thing, nagged the Internal Keeper of the Outline/Spreadsheet. And because it’s right there on the plan. Look.

So, I looked, and I thought, and then I cut that scene. The Spreadsheet Keeper whined about it, but I stuffed her into a steamer trunk somewhere and broke the lock. I can still hear her thumping at the lid and screaming obscenities at me***, but you get used to it. Also, I’m having a heavy metal morning, so it blends into the music.

I wrote about Elmore Leonard back when he got shelved****, and it’s another piece of his writing advice that comes back to me now: “Try to leave out the parts that readers skip”. If readers are going to skip it—or worse, get bored by it and drop the book entirely—why bother to write it? Everything that I was going to do in that scene—setting up That Big Thing, exploring the family, maybe hinting at a murder—can be folded into other scenes with more finesse. And far less of the protagonist staring off into space and remembering the Not So Good Ol’ Days.

I’m still not entirely sure about this decision. I might reconsider later, when I’m trying to dribble backstory in between stabbings. But for now it seems right. Cut the boring parts, because if I want to skip it, you can be goddamn sure the reader will.
*Yes, I have a daily word count. It keeps me on track and makes sure I don’t have too many ‘ah, fuck it’ days. I even have a list where I track how well I’m keeping up.
**Relax, it’s a ceramic monkey skull. The bourbon’s real, though. And the souls.
***Yes, even my spreadsheet Keeper is a potty mouth.
****I’ve got some of his books next on my re-reading list and I can’t wait. *Pours out some bourbon and souls for Leonard*