The books frequently have plenty of conflict. Bad things happen to these characters and we’re supposed, as readers, to care about that.
But…I don’t. And when I get to that point in a book, I might as well just scrap it, and usually do.
This doesn’t mean the protagonist has to be a really good person. In fact, I can read books like the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay or The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and pull for the bad guys. That’s only because the authors are really good at what they do—they’ve made these guys likable in a very odd way. They’re smart and funny and unique.
In general, though, I’m looking for protagonists I can relate to or have some sympathy for.
Problems I’ve noticed with books where I don’t care if the protagonist lives or dies:
The author doesn’t get into the protagonist’s head or POV enough. I’m just watching from a distance and not really understanding what motivates their actions.
The character doesn’t seem proactive, only reactive.
The protagonist has no apparent sense of humor.
The character is selfish and only seems to think about how the conflict affects them and their life. This gets a little boring to me after a while.
The protagonist seems whiny.
The emotional range for the character is limited.
The protagonist has no ideas for getting out of the situation they’re in and relies too heavily on other characters for help.
They do dumb things and I lose respect for them.
They do dangerous things and I lose respect for them.
They’re not brave. Even if you’re scared, you can still show a glimmer of courage. Especially if you’re a protagonist and carrying a whole book on your shoulders!
Although these types of books frustrate me as a reader, I think they help me develop stronger protagonists. Have you got any character dislikes that you avoid?