There’s something that has intrigued me for a while. When we read or write books, we usually have a protagonist who is sympathetic, someone who we can identify with and cheer for. The main character should be someone we like, right? But what if it’s the opposite?
Imagine a novel where the main character is not good. It could be an antihero, though they usually have good in them, and we can sympathise with them. But what if the protagonist is your typical antagonist from fantasy? The one we always perceive as evil and never get to see what goes on in their mind. What if the main character is that evil overlord? And this time, we know what they’re thinking, we know their motivation, and we know how they feel. Could we actually start to sympathise with them?
In a way, when we read a book, we are travelers going along with the protagonist. Not exactly kidnapped, but we are passive observers. But if the protagonist is evil, can we develop a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, and actually start liking and supporting the evil overlord? I wonder how a book like that would do.
So, my questions are:
- Would you read a book like this?
- Would you write a book like this?
- Is there a book like this?
I’m very interested in your answers.
Every writer needs to decide how to reveal the antagonists plans, intentions, and motivation. How much should be revealed? When?
In some cases, the reader gets to see everything. We can find out what the antagonist wants and what they plan to do. We know more than the protagonist.
In other cases, we know as much as the protagonist, and everything is revealed as they learn about it. There’s much more mystery.
Both cases have their advantages and disadvantages. The first type doesn’t give us much to think about. We know what’s going on. However, we don’t know the outcome. There can be a kind of suspense in this case, especially if the antagonist has a similar level of power as the protagonist. They could be evenly matched, so we see a great struggle to overcome each other. We understand the dangers that the protagonist must meet, and we may even know the weaknesses of the antagonist. This kind of story can be frustrating because we tend to criticise the protagonist. We know what could be done, but we can’t affect the story.
On the other hand, the slow reveal can create a great amount of suspense and mystery. We don’t get to see the antagonist’s motivations, thoughts, or even know what they’re capable of. We only know what the protagonist knows. It’s as if we’re part of their team or group as a kind of observer. We don’t know how powerful the enemy is, nor do we know what they’re capable of. Anything could happen. One disadvantage is that we have no idea if the enemy has a limit. They could have immense powers that are never shown until the last minute, making us wonder if the writer is just making things up just to create more suspense.
I’ve read books with both kinds of approaches, and they both work. Superhero stories almost always reveal everything to the reader. We can anticipate a great struggle, and that’s what we want. On the other hand, a crime story has us in the shoes of the police or other investigator, and we know just as much as they do. It makes us think.
So, what do you prefer?
I’ve read plenty of fantasy novels where the main character is usually a teenager who goes on a journey, discovers themself, and becomes an adult. This is a very common theme of epic fantasy stories. I’ve read some in which the main character is an adult, as well. However, a lot of fantasy stories are about self-discovery, and it’s usually teenagers that go through this process, both in literature and in reality. Teenaged characters may also appeal more to younger readers.
So, this is what I’m wondering, how old do people prefer to have their protagonist? For me, it depends on the story. Young characters are often needed, especially for self-discovery stories. Adults can go through this, too. But adults are usually less adaptable and more set in their ways. The two fantasy novels I’m reading right now are quite different. “A Game of Thrones” has an ensemble cast of characters of many different ages. There’s no particular lead character, as the point of view changes between several adult, teenage, and child characters. The other is an eBook I’m reading called “Voidhawk” where all characters are adults. But usually, I read fantasy novels with a teenaged lead character.
As for my planned trilogy, the main character starts out as a teenager for reasons I won’t get into now. However, he is nearly an adult.
What age do you prefer protagonists to be?