5 Reasons Your Novel’s Protagonist Hates You

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

Dear Author Dude,

You have some ‘splaining to do. 

The Novel and Short Story Protagonist’s Guild (in league with the Heroes’ Union) has done an extensive survey of members, and we find evidence of a widespread campaign by authors to diminish our stature in fiction.


In short, as “the main doer” in your stories, we demand a little respect.

#5 Give Us A Clue. 

Quit making us oblivious to the evils in the world.  We’re tired of being perpetually shocked, confused, surprised, sideswiped, and devastated by the mercurial nature of being alive a world where Bad Things Happen. 

Why, oh, why do we always have to believe that our lives are picture perfect and destined to stay that way… until BOOM, you drop conflict, tragedy, and upheaval into our laps.

Would it really be so bad if this wasn’t the first problem we’ve had to handle?

#4  Good = Weak, Strong = Villain

Ug.  There’s nothing more frustrating than signing up for a noble, heroic role only to find out that, once again, we’re frail, sincere, and ill-equipped to handle the story ahead.

Well, actually there is something more frustrating.  It’s getting to play a well-equipped hero, only to find out that your definition of heroic means that we’re here to out kill, out torture, and out destroy the villain. 

You think we won’t notice you’ve made us into villains? 

Yeah.  We end up in therapy.  Angels weep.  Humankind forgets the mythic roots of story.  And somewhere, a reader’s dim memory of epic story flickers out.

#3 Oh, look, we’re so deep.  (Eyes rolling)

No, wait.  What you really mean is that we’re self-involved, depressed, angry, untrusting,traumatized,  jaded, pessimistic, and perpetually unhappy.

We call that a cheap and easy substitute for deep.  

It’s your job to think, to make the hard decisions and plumb the depths of humanity.  Yet, time after time, you resort to the easy answer.  If you want a “deep” protagonist, you make him unhappy, suicidal, antisocial, and angst-ridden.

Newsflash: Emotional, spiritual, and intellectual depth are seldom explored when stuck in depression.  When someone is traumatized, they do not suddenly become deep.  And pessimistic people latch onto every negative they hear and totally give up. Huh.  That looks kinda thin to us. Not a lot of character depth required in jumping to ‘life sucks, so why try?’

We hereby recall the word "’deep’.’  In its place, from now on, use the word ‘profound.’ 

#2 You’ve made us ‘realistic.’ Gee thanks.

Why is it you confuse realistic with skeevy, mean, snarky, lacking in morals, and pretty much everything related to jackassery.

While there are real people with those traits, do you honestly believe that character’s aren’t realistic unless they’re a pain in the ass?  (This would explain much, if your answer is yes.)

We’d like to introduce you to the idea that  an author’s keen eye in observing his fellow humanity should extend past the current trend of celebrating protagonists who are jerks.

#1 Protagonists Do; Victims Don’t

Make up your mind already.  Are we the protagonists of your stories or the victims?  Victims are a whole other union, and we’re tired of being tricked into playing victims in your books.

As protagonists, we’re the doers of your story’s action. 

Victims don’t do.  They twist their wimpy ankles. They wait for the next badness that you have planned, knowing they need to be rescued, but unable to make it go.

Many of you writer-types already get that.  But what you don’t get is that we protagonists care deeply about what’s happening now and about what will happen next. 

We’re not neutral, nor do we float along.

We don’t just wake up the next day a blank slate, unable to make up our minds or unaware of the current story and our part in it.

We care, we decide, we act, we react.  And we certainly don’t give up.

Victims may care, but they’re prevented from deciding, acting, and reacting by the plot or their own inertia.

So, let’s be clear.  If you hire us protagonists, we’re gonna need to Get It On.  None of this sitting around, falling into things, or not knowing what we want.

Bottom line, we have a powerful function in your stories.  We’ve earned your respect over centuries.  And we’re banding together to say, “You can do better by us.”

(Or else we’ll contact the Villain’s Union, if you get our meaning.)


Protagonists For Narrative Good, Inc. ( a fictional production)

clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.