I’ve been thinking about this lately, about the kinds of main characters I usually write. I tend to create them with dramatic character arcs, meaning they aren’t necessarily “nice” people in the beginning of the book, but they grow to be something admirable by the end.
However! This doesn’t seem to translate well into something desirable or marketable. Beta readers, critique partners, agents and editors (and readers?)—for the most part, all seem to prefer a character that doesn’t have off-putting traits. So I find myself cleaning up my MCs so they are more palatable and likable throughout. They still change by the end, but not as much.
Relatability and Likability
It seems like the most popular characters are the ones who have hearts of gold, even though they make mistakes. They have good intentions. They’re heroes or heroines by the book’s end. They muster up courage in the face of adversity. If they offend or cause harm to someone, it’s accidental—or at least minor or forced upon them. Think Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen. They are role models, people we often wish we were, people we like because they give us hope or show us how to be brave.
I have a suspicion that more abrasive, less “nice” main characters are found in paranormal or dystopian novels. These books have grittier scenarios, which produce grittier MCs.
People don’t tend to like whiny characters. Or spiteful characters. Or rude-to-their-mother characters. Or narrow-minded characters. But these kinds of people exist in the real world. Are we restricting ourselves too much when we only focus on the “nicer” people, the “good” main characters—or should we stick to what’s more widely marketable?
Personally, I love to read about characters who are complex, not always “good,” and who are different from the usual. I enjoy a wide-swinging character arc, like in the movie Groundhog’s Day; he’s totally obnoxious in the beginning, but his gradual change into someone kind-hearted is awesome.
It’s all fascinating food for thought. I suppose we can’t paint too broad of strokes—because there are always exceptions—but it’s good to ponder these things once in a while.
What kind of main character do you enjoy reading about?
Can you enjoy reading about a character who is mean or snarky to other characters?
What are your favorite characters, and why?—are they the “heart of gold” kind?
Do you think paranormal and dystopian genres have more abrasive or less “nice” kinds of main characters?