Unlikely Protagonists

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Another review of A Traitor to Dreams, another opportunity to talk about interesting aspects of writing:

Lonely cat ladies worried about being closer to forty than thirty aren’t your typical main character for a sci-fi/UF book, and that is one of my favorite things about this book. Instead of a springy, naive and doe-eyed teenager leading a resistance, we’ve got Elpida, a decisive, driven and kind of abrasive New York career woman. This deviation from common tropes is worth a read.

I also love all the Greek touches in this book. Once a classicist, always a classicist, I guess.

The concept is interesting. The pacing could be improved a bit, but overall an enjoyable read. I’ll definitely pick up the next one.

First, positive reviews are always appreciated. Second, reviews that point out potential issues are even better–the review I wrote about previously similarly pointed out the pacing as an issue, and I’m assuming this review likewise refers to the beginning. As I said in that post, the slow start was deliberate; previous attempts to start in medias res just didn’t work right.

But the thing I liked about this review was its assessment of Elpida. The point was she isn’t the typical main character in an action-packed, swashbuckling sci-fi/urban fantasy. I wanted her to be sympathetic, yes, but also the last kind person you’d expect to see in a story like this.

So why does this matter? Because similarly to my discussion about underused cultural settings to base a work of fiction on, I’m also fascinated with the idea of underused character types. Let’s get into a few that you don’t see too often. Or at least, that don’t.

The elderly. Every once in a while there’ll be an old man or an old woman, but rarely as the main character in a fantasy or sci-fi where they’re in the thick of the action. Gandalf is the only one I can think of. You see an old man in cowboy movies, for example–the grizzled old gunslinger trope–or other action films, but not so much in books. You never seem to see old women. I have a story outlined and partially started where the main character is an octogenarian old wizard who has to delve into a dangerous dungeon in order to rescue his former apprentice, who happens to be his granddaughter’s fiance. It’s been fun writing challenges for him. (As an aside, this is in my fictionalized version of Renaissance-era Crete I teased in the “Cultural Inspiration” post.) I need a story with an elderly woman as the protagonist. Maybe a survival-horror . . .

The disabled. I remember in Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub, there was a blind supporting character, but not a blind main character. A story with a blind main character would be very interesting. Or someone missing limbs. I’m not trying to be gross or sensational. I just think the opportunities to write a story where a character bravely overcomes all odds would be fantastic. Or a main character with Down Syndrome.

This could be construed in very poor taste, even though that’s not my intention at all. I’m just going to move on.

Main characters with Autism or Asperger’s. This is another type of main character you just don’t see. I have an unpublished novel where the main character is an undiagnosed Autist, and while it hinders him in some ways, it helps him in others, figuring things out that the other characters are incapable of doing. Yes, I did my research. Yes, I’d love to spruce it up and publish it some day. No, it’s not a retread of Rain Man or whatever, this is an isekai-type science-fantasy story.

Babies. I don’t mean the infant as a main character, but ever since I had children, and especially since I have one who is still an infant, I’m fascinated by the idea of someone woefully unprepared to care for an infant stuck in a survival situation. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but with a man and a baby and not nihilistic. I mean, a man wouldn’t be able to breastfeed, right? How would he feed the baby? Diapers? An infant’s schedule? What about keeping the baby quiet while trying to avoid bad guys? I’ve never read Lone Wolf and Cub, so if this has already all been done before, please let me know. But this is a concept that really strikes me as an interesting one.

Unsympathetic people. What if we go the other route? What if we have, say, a virulent and unrepentant racist as the only person who can save the world (or at least the day?). The opportunities for character development are enormous. You could even get darker with this type of main character if you wanted.

What unlikely main characters would you like to see?


See what this reviewer meant about Elpida and get your copy of A Traitor to Dreams today! On sale for an $0.99 eBook download until tomorrow!

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46 comments

  1. David Gemmell’s debut novel Legend is about an old soldier coming out of retirement for one last battle. I highly recommend it.

    I don’t know if it’s autism per se but socially clueless male heroes are pretty common in anime.

    Liked by 2 people

      • My favorite example is Domon Kasshu from Mobile Fighter G Gundam (think Street Fighter or Punchout, but the fighters are mech pilots). He spent half his life practicing martial arts in the wilderness and doesn’t know much about anything else.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alexander,

        The curious case of the dog has an autistic young boy as the main character.

        The Sunday philosopers club has a 40 year old woman as the main character by Alexander McCall Smith
        The Precious detective stories has an overweight Botsawanan lady detective and another series by Alexander McCall Smith have underused characte.
        The Shelby Alexander series has a 60 year old exboxer.
        Many of the cozy mysteries have underused characters

        They exist but it takes time to find them 🙂

        xavier

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There is a movie from the 80’s called Blind Fury where a blind Vietnam vet is the main character. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096945/?ref_=nv_sr_1

    Autism… Rain Man, anyone?

    Granted, these are movies, not novels, but still. Movies have scripts. Someone had to WRITE it first.

    If this blog post had been written by anyone else, I’d have to assume you were trying to intentionally be ‘inclusionist’, which just rubs me the wrong way… like petting a shark backwards against the scales. Like sandpaper when rubbed tail to head. And doesn’t seem like you at all.

    A trend I noticed in video games when I was making them was the trend for newer games, especially multiplayer games, to be inclusionary in the strangest ways. Disabled heroes, autistic heroes, fat heroes.

    It’s just like, enough already. Despite the PC culture no one truly gives AF. It’s all faux outrage and creaming over inclusion, when the people who actually read stuff, have not a whole lot of interest in reading what they’re told they should read.

    R.A. Salvatore still sells millions of books for a reason. They want a good guy, (or an almost good guy) fighting a bad guy, with lots of swordfights. Throw in a few plot twists or unexpected happenings, and voila. NYT best seller. (Not that easy for us, but that’s basically the formulae for already established best selling authors. They dish out more of the same and the public laps it up.)

    Now, don’t get me wrong here. If you truly, TRULY have a good idea for a story that would BEST be served by the main character being a one legged, old, fat, Korean War Veteran with taking care of his blind Autistic grandson, then go for it. 😛

    But if you’re sitting there going “Gee, I need to write a book about an Autistic hero.” or going “Gee, elderly women heroes are quite underrepresented…” then maybe you’re approaching the story from the wrong angle.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Blind Fury! Sounds rad!

      I’m not thinking about this in terms of representation or inclusion for faux diversity’s sake, just for storytelling possibilities. Like, what if there was a one-armed swordsman in a medieval style fantasy setting who had to train so much to overcome his disability, he could kick everyone’s ass? Stuff like that.

      The autistic character I wrote wasn’t to “raise awareness” or whatever. It was just to make it interesting. He’s a musical savant who is also obsessively into martial arts and marksmanship. He also has wrecked every personal relationship he’s ever been in because no one understands how to deal with him except for his childhood best friend, another of the main characters. It was just for storytelling purposes and not for diversity points.

      But I do understand where you’re coming from. It can smack of trying too hard to appease the SJW overlords. Screw this guys. I’m just into stories.

      But seriously—a survival horror with a Down Syndrome kid fleeing from and fighting back against m hideous monsters would make an interesting and unique story. At least, I think so.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Post Scriptum: I have ALL KINDS of ideas for ‘unsympathetic’ main characters, but none would ever get printed in this liberal PC-fest of a society we live in atm. There are things you can’t even QUESTION. Things you can’t even allude to questioning, without getting in a giant world of crap.

    Take for example a Jewish main character who questions the mainstream accepted narrative concerning the holocaust. You think that book would ever see the light of day? You think the person writing it wouldn’t be doxxed and receive death threats, or worse?

    What about a book that questions who really had MLK Jr killed. What if it was another black man? Oh snap.

    What about a book set in ancient times that has the main character who’s over 18, falling in love with someone who’s under 18? Even though it’s set thousands of years ago when that was the norm, you’d be called a pedo for even writing it.

    No, it’s not for a lack of ideas that most books we see are all carbon copies of each other, it’s the fact that you can’t really write about ‘verboten’ topics without risking your career, family, and even your life.

    Welcome to ‘current year’ America. Enjoying your stay in our Despocracy? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is why you self-publish!

      I’ve long had an idea for a book where the ONLY character who can save the day is a bitter, unrepentant, KKK-sympathizing racist who makes all sorts of nasty comments to the non-white characters around him, yet saves everyone regardless. Is he still a villain? A hero? How do the other characters feel about him? How does the reader?

      There are SO many ways to make interesting stories out of unsympathetic characters. A former old Nazi comes out of hiding to save the day? A Black Panther who has killed a dozen cops? And so on. Even better, at least to me, are the opportunities for character development with a character like this.

      You should write what you want regardless. You’re traveling in the right circles my man. We’ve got your back!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Funny you should mention the disabled and the elderly.

    My protagonist is both a double amputee, and one of the oldest living people on earth thanks to being one of the early recipients of life extension technology. So he’s old, but not feeble. And we get to see how the prospect of living to be 250 affects a man who had already lived a full life and expected to die, vs the ones who have always had centuries.

    Generation gaps, technology resistance, and curmudgeonly attachment to the music of his youth feature prominently.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. “Unsympathetic people.”

    One of the most interesting unsympathetic characters I know of is Thomas Covenant, from Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. This is a man that starts out as a typical nihilist, someone who doesn’t believe in morality or fairy tales(even after he himself ends up in a fairy tale), whose first action in the beginning of the series is to rape a woman. He then spends the entirety of the series into a lengthy exploration of various morally relevant topics such as guilt, shame, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. He is everything Michael Moorcock tried to do with Elric of Melnibone, only better. I know Donaldson gets a lot of flack but the first trilogy is genuinely worth reading for the main character’s journey.

    My favorite character with a disability remains Daredevil. His blindness is both a blessing and a curse, and in the hands of great writers it’s expertly utilized to its full potential.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I need to read Thomas Covenant. I remember when I was 13 quitting after he raped that woman. Good to know the story gets better after that.

      Agreed about Daredevil. I actually don’t think Stan Lee gets enough credit for how unique the concept is.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “I actually don’t think Stan Lee gets enough credit for how unique the concept is.”

        Hehe true but in fairness, it’s not a concept that Stan Lee came up with originally(although he did give it his own unique spin). There was a pulp character called The Black Bat, a district attorney that became a crime fighter after being blinded and disfigured by acid when trying to save evidence against a crime lord in court (also influential in the creation of Two Face Harvey Dent). He later recovers his sight through some deus ex machina I can’t remember, but while blind, Tony Quinn(The Black Bat) had developed the necessary skills of the blind; sharper hearing, more sensitive touch, a better sense of smell, etc, and he can now see in the dark as well.

        Just another example of the enormous influence the pulps had on pop culture(and still not getting the recognition they deserve) 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Re: Unsympathetic characters.

    This is the de jure character type of modern marvel/dc writers, esp when writing their new diversity characters. The characters are racist in the approved way.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. How did I not see this post until now? I love elderly characters. I’ve already decided I’m going to be a Miss Marple someday. 🙂

    Have you read Mike Duran’s books? He always uses unusual main characters. His debut novel has an older married heroine with a shriveled leg. His books get even better since he went indie.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I appreciate non-cliched main characters. Everybody’s either an author, a lawyer, a cop/detective/FBI agent, a doctor, or has some kind of unclear generic office job. What if the main character was a woman with one leg who lives in a trailer and works at a mall kiosk selling essential oils? What if it’s an elderly beekeeper who used to be a stuntman? What if it’s someone who just got out of prison after 20 years, convicted of a bizarre crime he didn’t commit, trying to reassimilate into society? What if it’s an Amish kid who never comes back after Rumspringa and becomes a tv cooking show star making Amish food, until they come for him and demand he quit exploiting their culture?😂 People are so random and weird that character possibilities are endless.

    Liked by 1 person

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