I’m sure you must’ve heard about unlikeable protagonists, such as deranged ones, morally inadequate ones, sadists, killers, criminals and other beasts of all shapes and sizes. In modern day fiction unlikable protagonists are no longer a minority. Many writers go for them in the hopes of making an impact on readers, and giving an extra edge to a common plot.
Don’t get me wrong, unlikeable protagonists are very much okay, and sometimes even a lot more interesting than their unsoiled counterparts. They keep the reader’s curiosity engaged because, even if we claim otherwise, we’d all love to be the bad guy sometimes.
Unrelatable protagonists, on the other hand, are still a rare breed. They come in two shapes: annoying ones, and weird ones.
The annoying ones we all know; they’re the lame, the lazy and the whiny protagonists that make readers use the book as a doorstop. No one likes to be stuck in the head of a crybaby for more than a page, and a protagonist whose thoughts are as coherent as a Flava Flav monologue won’t have you surrounded by groupies either. Annoying protagonists end up being unrelatable because they lack admirable qualities as well as fascinatingly despicable ones.
The weird ones are the truly different protagonists who challenge the way we perceive reality. They can be mentally disturbed (but not completely dysfunctional), belonging to a different culture or time period with completely different value systems, they can be otherworldy such as fantasy creatures or aliens (I mean born and raised in a vastly different model of society), or they can even be inanimate objects brought to life by extraordinary circumstances.
Such “weird” unrelatable protagonists attract the readers because they offer something that’s unattainable otherwise, and they maintain engagement by the exotic and strange perspective they have, by the absurdity and extravagance of their experience and point of view.
Now, if you think writing unlikable protagonists is hard, you’ve probably realized that writing unrelatable protagonists is even harder. You must navigate the treacherous waters that flow between silly exaggeration of known views and utterly unintelligible foreign ones, between going overboard in trying to be off the POV-chart on one hand, and not doing enough on the other.
If you succeed in creating an utterly different, normally unrelatable persona in your protagonist, and bring the reader into this exceptional character’s mindframe, you can be very proud of yourself. It’s a rare accomplishment, and one that’s not attempted often enough in my opinion. And I totally want to read your book!
Have you ever read such an unrelatable point-of-view character? Or written one?
This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2012