We Blog Chain members are celebrating the holiday season with a special Jingle Bell Chain. (sings, "Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell chain, I don't like the snow, but we don't need the rain...") We are posting whenever we want, linking to different people (I'll be linking to Elana and Terri), and choosing our own topics. The blog chain starts with Mary, if you'd like to read through the chain in order. So for my topic, I thought I'd discuss what I like to see in protagonists when I read.
1. I want a character I can relate to. In practice, this means I would rather read about a woman than a man, though I don't mind reading about men. I also prefer reading about characters close to my age, even though I enjoyed the Harry Potter series; Hermione was my favorite character. But the main reason I started reading Madelyn Alt's Bewitching Mysteries series is the heroine. Having lived in a small town, I can understand what it's like there. I also know what it was like being a single thirty-something woman, the way Maggie is, and I can empathize more with someone who buys her clothes at Walmart (though I prefer Target) than with a chick-lit heroine who buys designer labels I never even heard of before.
2. I want a competent character. While I like to see a character grow psychologically over the course of a novel, I also want her to have a core skill set and be good at what she does. A lot of urban fantasy these days features kick-ass heroines, as in, they are combative. I'm all for tough women, but I like variety in my reading. I'd like to see women who have unusual talents. I recently read a book called Clockwork Heart, which features a woman who is an icarus, a messenger who flies with wings made from lighter-than-air metal. Her flying skills are crucial to the plot, and when she confronts the villains, she defends herself in a way true to her character.
Going along with this, I also want a character who doesn't make dumb mistakes just to advance the plot. It can be hard to be patient with a character when you realize something fifty pages before she does or if she doesn't use common sense.
3. I want a likable character. This may seem to go along with Wish #1, but here I'm concerned about personality. While reading about a perfect character would be boring, I find it hard to root for a character whose flaws outweigh her virtues. I read a book last year (I won't mention the title or author here) which featured a lead female magician who apparently believed the ends justified the means. However, early in the book, there was a scene where she did something not nice (I don't remember exactly what) to her assistant. I lost any sympathy I had for the character at that point. I did finish the book since it had some interesting ideas. The protagonist did eventually come to the aid of her assistant (after first sending him off on a tough mission with a magic item that could hurt him as well as help him), but I was never able to get past that first impression of her. I haven't bought any of the sequels, and I probably won't, despite the interesting ideas this author brings to urban fantasy.
These rules aren't set in stone, even for my own works. One of my books features a male character, and another WIP has a character who's a bit of a ditz (to contrast with her stronger sister). I tend to emphasize my characters' flaws at the beginning of a book to set up an arc of character growth, but sometimes this approach makes readers dislike them. But these rules are a place to start, both in my reading and in my writing.
Have a happy 2009, everybody! We'll be back to the regular blog chain next year!