Monday, 23 August 2010

What Turns You On in a Protagonist...

...this post is not going to be as provocative as the subject makes it sound. :)

After reading Psycop 1 last week I've been thinking about what really makes me like and root for a protagonist. Looking at my favourite heroes and heroines - Marcus Falco, Miles Vorkosigan, Kate Daniels, Elena Danvers, Nadia Stafford, Adrien English, Jaz Parks, Gen (from The Thief) - there is some common ground there.

So without further ado - my three favourite things to find in a hero/heroine.

Sarcasm, Painful Honesty, and not Shutting Up

Lol - I love me a sarcastic hero. Someone who has a withering put down always ready on the edge of their tongue. Someone who has a clever comment to deliver at a moment's notice.
...Jack said, "You saw my note, right? It said 'wait'."
"That was a note? I thought it was a haiku."(Made to be Broken - Kelley Armstrong)
Someone who doesn't always keep quiet when perhaps they should because they just have to push it that bit further.
"I pointed out that he'd been no help at the ford. He pointed out that I had climbed a tree. I pointed out that I had no sword. He offered to give me his, point first." (The Thief - Megan Whalen Turner)
Someone who doesn't always understand the meaning of too much information.
"...I can't think with my underwear stuck up my crack. I know it's a weakness, but it's just one of those things." (Bitten to Death - Jennifer Rardin)
And if in doubt you can always state the truth.
"...Now she believes I'm a liar. Probably because I lied to her." (A Hunger Like No Other - Kresley Cole)

Keeping the Brain Switched On

One of the other attributes that I rank highly in a protagonist is whether or not they think. I hate when I read a book and start wondering at what point the hero put their brain into neutral. (Usually this happens to serve a particularly unbelievable plot point.) Smart people are sexy. People who keep their brain ticking over no matter the situation are fun to read about.
"I could tie you to the bed, you know."
"No, you can't. It's round and you don't have any rope." (Twilight Fall by Lynn Viehl)
(Hmmm, perhaps this is a little linked to the previous point).

One of the things I most love about characters such as Miles Vorkosigan, Kate Daniels and Marcus Falco is that even when the situation is turning to complete shit all around them, their brains are still constantly churning over the possibilities.
"Hello, dove." He grinned at me. "Look at that: you don't have your pretty knife and I've got your hands. What are you gonna do now?"
I rammed my head into his nose.' (Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews)
They can be saying one thing, doing something else and thinking something else entirely. It makes for an exciting and thrilling read.


Again this kind of links to the previous post in some ways - the character having their brain switched on- but it's also to do with the character behaving organically. I think it's important that if an author establishes a character will behave in a certain way that they are true to that. Put your character in the most awful situation imaginable but have them behave in a way that is true to them.

A brilliant example of this (and I'm going to write about it without spoilers because it just shouldn't be spoiled) is what happens to Miles Vorkosigan in Memory. Something awful happens. But it's been established since the beginning of the series that he follows this strategy of 'forward momentum' (keep going, just keep going). And up until this point it's worked pretty well for him. But in this case things just get worse and worse. He should stop...but he can't. As a reader you can see the inevitable disaster of the situation, but you also understand that Miles is behaving like Miles would.

So what are the attribues you most like your heroes/heroines to have? I have a copy of Phenomenal Girl 5 to give away to one poster to this thread. Winner to be chosen by random number at on Saturday.


Jenre said...

Great post, Leslie. And you've pretty much picked up on most of my favourite characteristics too. I also like a self-depreciating sense of humour, an ability to laugh at themselves and recognise when they've made a complete balls-up of things. This might fit under your 'painful honesty' category. There's nothing I hate more than a smug, self-satisfied hero/heroine who is totally perfect and never wrong.

LesleyW said...

Jenre - thank you. :) Yep I agree with that too. A hero who is up him/herself is not fun to read about. Smugness is not an attractive quality.

Chris said...

Not entering the contest.

Um, damn, am I just going to have to type "ditto" here? :)

LesleyW said...

Chris - lol, ditto is fine. :)

Sullivan McPig said...

consistency is important for me too.
Otherwise I like my heroines heros likeable. I can't stand ballbusting heroines or male chauvinistic heros. They can ofcourse be tough, but sadly enough lots of writers confuse touch with bitch and/or asshole (sorry to those who are offended by my use of language)

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on the ditto!! This is a great post, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I love a sassy hero/heroine and the smart mouth. Gives a bit of relief with the action is tense.

in Germany

Seanna Lea said...

I prefer to read books with a strong female protagonist. That results in me reading a lot of YA, coming of age fiction, and a lot of snarky paranormals.

So, the ability to think on one's feet, to not let the hormones override the brain, and to have a goal and the drive to get there. So, some of my favorites are: Keladry (Tamora Pierce, First Test series), Faris (Carolyn Stevermer, College of Magics), and many of the books you already mentioned (paranormals).

My reading preferences also mean that I pretty much cannot read anti-heros. I want to smack them upside the head too frequently to do anything other than toss the book aside in favor of another.

LesleyW said...

Sullivan - I think you're right about tough being a difficult balance to make.

Valerie - I like a smart mouth on my hero/heroine.

LesleyW said...

Seanna Lee - I like strong female protagonists. But I also have a soft spot for a well written anti-hero too.