Unlikeable Protagonists

Question: Is it possible to write about a protagonist that people will not like, who dies in the end and about whom you should feel mixed emotions?

Answer: The straight answer is yes, but there are several ways of looking at this issue.

First, consider that the definition of the "protagonist" in Dramatica is the character who 1) Pursues the Story Goal and 2) Considers its importance. The word comes from Greek tragedy, and literally means the "first actor," because in Greek tragedy, the story begins with the protagonist setting out in pursuit of the goal.

Using this definition, you can find many stories in which the "villain" seems to take on the protagonist role. You may have a mad genius who embarks on a plan to take over the world (goal), and that's what begins the story. In such cases, the main character (the one through whose eyes the reader views the story), is actually the character who wants to Prevent having the goal achieved (and Considers the importance of that end).

You can also find examples of main characters who are also the protagonist, yet are not very nice people. Alex in A Clockwork Orange commits numerous acts of violence, and there are other novels written from the point of view of selfish, sociopathic, or cruel characters. But even though readers may disapprove of these characters' actions, they may be intrigued by the character's perspective, charmed by the character's style of self-expression, or sympathetic to their situation. Alex, for example, can be seen as suffering unfairly despite his crimes.

As for having the protagonist die in the end, that is quite common in Tragedy or Comi-tragedy. Macbeth (another less-than-likeable character) fails in his ambition to found a line of kings because he becomes too ruthless. So while a reader may have some empathy for Macbeth in the beginning, his unfortunate end seems justified. That's also an example of "mixed emotions."

Keep in mind that what defines a Tragedy is that 1) the Story Goal is not achieved and 2) the main character ends up worse than when he started.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.

Follow Glen on Twitter...

If the information on this site helps you, consider giving a few dollars in return...

You Are Secure!

"I am so glad I found your site. It has helped me in so many ways, and has given me more confidence about myself and my work. Thank you for making this valuable resource, for me and my fellow writers. Perhaps you'll hear about me someday...I'll owe it to you." - Ruth, Milton, U.S.A.

"Thanks to your "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps," I was able to take a story that I simply just fooled around with and went willy nilly all over, into a clearly defined, intriguing battle where two characters fight to keep their relationship intact, and try to find a balance in control of themselves and their lives. Thanks to you, I'm not ashamed of the poor organization of my writing." - Nommanic Ragus

"I never knew what to do with all the characters in my head, but since discovering Dramatica I am writing again in my spare time. Thank you for making this available. Yes, it is a bit complex, and it does take time, but I love it because it works." - Colin Shoeman

"I came across your website by chance. It is a plethora of knowledge, written in a simplistic way to help aspiring writers. I truly appreciate all of the information you have provided to help me successfully (relative term) write my novel. Thank you very much!" - Leo T. Rollins

"I can honestly say that this is the first website that is really helpful. You manage to answer complex questions in relatively short articles and with really intelligent answers. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles and sharing them so generously." - Chrystelle Nash