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I've been creative writing all my life, though with various haitus(es) along the way. IFrom 2010 I started this blog and enjoyed sharing writing and other information with everyone. illness and bereavement supplied the more recent hiatus.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Dysfunctional Protagonists

I've recently read an article in Writer's Forum Magazine by Vanda Inman suggesting that while we must be able to believe in our story characters as real people our heroes should be quirky .

It is said that to get your characters right, provides 50-70% of the success of the story. The right kind of sympathetic characters are vital to make the story believable.

This got me thinking about the personality of various popular children's heroes.

Of course while Harry Potter by J K Rowling wears glasses and has a lightning scar on his forehead, he's essentially an ordinary young boy and all-round-good-egg. Neville Longbottom is a great character, the likeable underdog, who comes into his own at the end of the series, which is heartwarming and empowering.

William in Just William by Richmal Cromptonseems to possess a bizarre logic that makes him appear as if he suffers from 'Semantic Pragmatic Disorder', but then maybe he was one of your favourites?

Then there are the eccentric and wild tomboy-ish characters such as Pippi Longstocking
by Astrid Lindgren and
Katy in What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge.

Having recently read three novels by a popular YA author, my feeling was that her MC's always apeared unbelievably self-absorbed, which doesn't appeal to me. While a protagonist should have flaws to make them human, surely it's the baddies we want our readers to hiss at rather than the goodies? We want our readers to love our main characters.

In adult literature I can think of Hercule Poirot as an acceptably eccentric, popular character.

Who are your favourite quirky characters?

Have you given your main characters eccentric and unique traits?

Are they human with relatable and interesting flaws ?

Hmmm, I shall have to rethink mine, perhaps!


  1. I must say that my characters all have their little quirks, likes and dislikes.

    I also must mention that I'm taking a huge gamble by making the one protagonist particularly 'spit-worthy'. I'm hoping that he will come around and change into a better person.

    Otherwise I might just toss him over to the dark side.


  2. An interesting and thought-provoking post.

    All my characters have their own unique personality quirks or traits, and they are more exaggerated then real life. I also try to give them light and shade - in other words, both good and bad points. I think it is important to not make characters all bad or all good - in real life, people just aren't like that.

    You've given me a lot to think about!

  3. As a new writer, I've had to remind myself to not develop my characters too perfectly. Interesting post!

  4. I agree with Ellie that it's important to give our characters flaws. That's how we recognize ourselves when reading and are able to connect with those characters. We identify with them and root for them to overcome their difficulties.

    One of my favorite quirky characters is Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter :) I love that she's comfortable with herself and her beliefs even though her bluntness may make others uncomfortable. Those who get to know her learn that she possesses an inner wisdom about herself and those around her.

  5. Maybe it depends on whether you are writing plot driven or character driven stuff, and YA/Children's or adult stuff. For a romance, I think you need character flaws, because the protagonists have to overcome stuff about themselves, otherwise there is no romantic tension. Little kid stuff is a little more black and white/ good v. evil, and YA stuff seems to be more coming of age and learning about shades of gray in human nature, and learning that it's okay not to be perfect.
    Just my 1.5 cents.

  6. I love quirky characters, but it almost seems like the quirkiest characters tend to not be the main ones. Like in Harry Potter there's Luna Lovegood. She's very cute and quirky, but we don't actually see anything from her point of view like we do with Harry.

  7. This is really interesting. It strikes me we have to be careful to distinguish between quirkiness and character flaws. A quirk is not necessarily a flaw, indeed, I would even go as far as to suggest that a quirk is, by definition, not a flaw. A quirk is a quirk and a flaw is a flaw. Being nervous in the presence of the opposite sex might be a quirk, hating the opposite sex is more of a flaw (or hating any group of people simply because they belong to that group). It's not that MC's shouldn't have flaws, but your example of the "unbelievably self-absorbed" MC shows that flaws should be treated with care!


  8. Huh. Quirky. I've never thought of it, but I can see how it could make them seem more real. As long as they're not over the top.

    In my nano ms, my mc has issues that cause her to question the reality she perceives. And the antagonist is basically a sociopath...

    In my first wip, my mc is (understandably) emotional, fragile, stubborn....I just have to find an antagonist.....

    My fave quirky character? Professor Snape.

  9. This is a great post! You gave us so much to think about, Madeleine. Thanks for you insights.

    I hope your new year is filled with wondrous and exciting days.


  10. This has also been interesting for me because as Dom has pointed out there is a difference between the quirky characters and the flawed ones. I agree with your all that characters should have flaws to be well rounded and acceptably human, but how many of those characters we read are truly quirky?
    Thanks for joining in the discussions while I was away visiting my relatives, it's been fabulous coming home to see the ideas. :O)


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