Saturday, May 23, 2009

Protagonists with Shortcomings

Sherlock Holmes and Watson Yesterday was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 150th birthday and Conan Doyle’s greatest creation, Sherlock Holmes, is nearly as popular today as he was in the 19th century.

Conan Doyle was a master at character creation.  Although readers became extremely affectionate towards Holmes, there was nothing innately loveable about him. He was frequently described as cold (although he became very passionate when on a case.) He was a habitual user of both cocaine and morphine. He was rude and arrogant.  But he was gifted, and continually amazed readers with his powers of observation and deduction.

Conan Doyle eventually tired of his famous detective and decided to kill him off to work on his historical novels.  Holmes and his arch enemy, Professor Moriarty, fall to their deaths over a waterfall in "The Final Problem.”  The public would hear nothing of it.  First Conan Doyle tried to satisfy the public by producing The Hounds of the Baskervilles, set before Holmes’ death.  Readers, however, weren’t happy with this solution and Conan Doyle eventually brought Holmes back (as many soap operas today bring back popular characters from death.)  Conan Doyle’s publishers were, of course, delighted. 

I’m a big Sherlock fan myself and enjoy reading Conan Doyle as well as watching adaptations on television.  I love that Holmes is so popular despite his shortcomings…and maybe because of them.  I write a character that also has plenty of failings,  but try to balance them out with positive traits.  I enjoy brusque characters with hearts of gold.  Or characters that are tough on the outside but who stand beside their friends through thick and thin.

Do you enjoy reading about protagonists that have obvious faults?  Do you write these protagonists?  How do you make them interesting without making them unsympathetic to the reader?