Frustrating Protagonists Are Good
Yup, I just came out and said it.
So … end of post, yes?
Kidding! About it being the end of the post. I stand by my statement/post title. And here’s why:
The people you love most also annoy you the most at times. And yet, you still love them, yes?
Obviously, this is a no-brainer for people we live with. When you share a bathroom with a person, they’re going to drive you up the wall from time to time. But I daresay you even have a best friend who drives you positively batty at times, but you still call them and hang out with them and watch the Hunger Games with them because you really love them more than they annoy you.
Well, protagonists should get on your nerves sometimes.
I had this realization the other day when discussing Mockingjay with a friend. She’d just read it, and when I asked her what she thought, she said Katniss got annoying in this book. And I thought to myself, “Why, that’s a good thing.” As authors, we can’t please everyone. (As people, we can’t please everyone.) If we try, we end up a) being a big fatty fake fart and b) failing. So, it stands to reason that even the stars of our books should frustrate the reader sometimes. They should make bad decisions, and get angsty, and call their mother bad words (which the protag of my thesis totally did in what is now one of my favorite scenes in the whole not-quite-a-full-book-yet). Hello! You’ve heard of a little boy named Harry Potter right? And you’ve read the 5th book, right? In which Harry is the most annoying and angsty 15 year-old out there and OHMYGOSH there’s hundreds of pages of him being annoying and angsty!
And then there’s 17 year-old Harry Potter, who totally kicks butt and kills Voldemort and makes us cry and kisses Ginny Weasley and saves the day. And I contend that his triumph is all the greater because we’ve seen him progress. We root for him even more because we know that Harry has his flaws and can draw conclusions and get his feelings hurt easily, but MYGOODNESS, he’s a real person and he’s complicated and we love him for it because his goodness wins out in the end.
And also, I think it’s better to be absolutely pissed off at a character than to feel ambivalent towards them. FEELINGS are good things. APATHY is never a good thing.
So let your characters–even your beloved protagonist–make bad decisions and be mean. Because in the end, we will love them all the more for it.