I am discussing protagonists today. I highly recommend you check out my YouTube video for this, as I feel the experience is more enjoyable there. If you’d rather read it, this is a cleaned-up version of the closed captions.
This is going to be an interesting discussion because I have a weird quirk when it comes to protagonists, but we’ll discuss that in a moment. With protagonists, there are certain qualities I really like to see within them. I like seeing well-developed protagonists. I want them to have flaws, and I want them to have motivations. If the protagonist does not have motivations and flaws, I probably will not care about the protagonist. I also want to see protagonists that have really great character arcs. If a character does not grow or change over the course of the story, I’m not going to be as invested in them. Another thing that I think is crucial for protagonists, particularly female protagonists, is agency. Protagonists really need to make decisions that affect the storyline. If they don’t, it makes me wonder what they’re doing there. The protagonist should have a pretty active role within the story, and this is particularly true for females because there is a history of people thinking that females need to be passive and let other people make decisions for them, and that’s not true. Women can make their own decisions, so we should encourage that within writing and make sure our female protagonists have agency.
There are some qualities I do not like to see in protagonists. When the protagonists are supposed to be the good guys, I don’t like it when they’re whiny, mean, toxic, or abusive. Those kinds of things really turn me off, and I have a hard time finishing the story. If they are supposed to be the good guys, I do not want to see them putting down other people and being really cruel and terrible. That’s not cool. I get that people will accidentally say things that hurt another person’s feelings. That happens. But if they’re just continually being nasty to other people, I’m probably going to DNF the book because I don’t want to follow that kind of person. If they’re whiny, I don’t care if they’re good or bad. I’m gonna get annoyed really quickly because I don’t like listening to people complaining all the time in books. I get that enough in my real life. I do not need that within fiction.
If the protagonist is morally gray or more of a bad guy, then I think it’s okay to have those kinds of traits. I just don’t want to see those traits romanticized within the good guys and people that we are rooting for, and I don’t want to see bad guys being romanticized either. We shouldn’t say they are someone you should be around when they’re toxic and abusive. This is weird because I absolutely love villains who are evil and terrible, but again, they are the bad guys, so we are not saying you should go be with the bad guy and that they’re a good person to be around. When the good guys are portrayed in that way, I think it is concerning. When the protagonist is a good guy, I don’t think it’s okay for us to be romanticizing any sort of toxic traits within them, and even if someone is morally gray or a bad guy, again I don’t think we should be romanticizing that because people learn from fiction. I think some readers, particularly younger readers, see things being romanticized, and they think that it is okay to be in relationships with toxic people because it’s romanticized within stories. I think we need to be really, really careful about how we go about portraying these kinds of things because it can be really damaging to people in real life.
My quirk with protagonists is that the protagonist is virtually never one of my favorite characters. I basically never like the protagonist of a story, and I know that is really weird, and that’s just the way I work. My favorite character is almost always a side character. There are two exceptions that I can think of off the top of my head, and one is Bilbo from The Hobbit. Bilbo is my favorite character in The Hobbit, and that’s because he’s really the only character that we get a lot of development for and that we get any intimacy with, and so Bilbo is definitely my favorite. He has a great arc. I love watching his story, and so that’s one exception where the protagonist is my favorite character.
Now with the other one, some people may argue that this person is not a protagonist, but I personally believe this story has two protagonists, and that is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think most people think Frodo is the protagonist, but I think Aragorn is also a protagonist, and I really like Aragorn. He is a great guy. He has all these great qualities, and he has an amazing character arc, so I really like Aragorn. He is my favorite character in The Lord of the Rings.
I can’t think of any other books or series where I like the protagonist, and that’s super weird. I know. I think the only other exception might be something like a Disney movie, but even then I think a lot of times my favorite character is either the villain or some side character. I’m weird that way, and so this discussion is not going to be super long because I don’t have a ton of protagonists that I’m here to rave about. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of the other protagonists. They’re just not characters I particularly enjoy. A lot of times I’m fine following their stories. I’m just not a huge fan of the characters themselves.
What I would love to see more of in terms of protagonists—and this is the villain-lover in me talking—is corruption arcs. I would love to see protagonists go evil and join the bad guy. I think that would be really interesting to see within stories. I know that kind of story would probably cater to a very specific audience because not everyone wants to see the good guy go bad and then read about them being the bad guy, but I think that could be something really interesting to play around with. Again writers would have to be really careful about not romanticizing this corruption arc because otherwise people are going to think it’s okay to go bad when it’s not. In real life we should be good people. We should not be the villains. I know we can be antagonists to other people unintentionally, but we should not be villains. We should try to be good guys, and we should not be romanticizing things that we don’t want people doing in real life because villains often do really terrible things that are really toxic and cruel. When you have a protagonist that goes on a corruption arc, they’re going to start doing those kinds of things, and we really don’t want to romanticize those as appropriate things to be doing. As much as I love villains, I could never be one because the thought of doing things that villains do just horrifies me. I don’t know why I love villains so much because I am horrified by things they do. Something about them just really appeals to me, but I don’t know exactly what it is.
Anyway those are my thoughts on protagonists. Sorry I don’t have a more thorough discussion. I am just super weird when it comes to protagonists. Let me know in the comments down below who your favorite protagonist is and if there are any protagonists that you hate. If you are weird like me and you never like protagonists, let me know because I would love to know whether or not I am alone out there in terms of my thoughts.