by Camela Thompson
Be warned. I'm feeling a little bit ranty today. I just finished a book I really enjoyed. In fact, I couldn't put it down. I read until my Kindle ran out of battery charge. I even looked forward to my commute to and from work on public transit because it's a chance to read. That is really saying something considering it was in the 90s which only intensified the various smells imprinted into the vinyl seats. So, what's the issue? There was one thing that nearly ruined the book for me, and it's my biggest pet peeve as a reader: The protagonist was perfect. She could do everything well. Her perfection was explained by lessons gleaned throughout her life, but the list of awesomeness was never ending.
I get the impulse, and one of my beta readers pointed out that I've been called on it during first draft reviews. As a writer with feminist overtones, I want my female protagonist to thrive on her own. I don't like having her ask for help. But. Sometimes it makes sense. A character new to surviving in a harsh environment may not know everything about fighting, weapons, or even legal representation. Let's not forget there are many forms of strength, including knowing when to ask for help. A character can appear weak, but their strength may be in what they sacrifice for another to thrive.
I've read historical fiction novels with characters who excel at everything. It's very prevalent in spy thrillers. Just look at James Bond--his only flaw was misogyny. In the particular book that fueled this tirade, a young woman had perfected everything from learning new languages to spying to throwing dice. It made sense for her to excel at some things, but there was no need to call out others. When she excelled at something as mundane as efficiently moving through crowds, it grew frustrating.
Other readers have expressed similar frustration when the main character is a stunning beauty or a gorgeous man who also happens to be an expert in all things. It's easier for me to relate to characters who have physical flaws (or at least is self-conscious) and have uncertainties. It makes the hero's journey more interesting and the character arc has more room to grow.
What are your feelings? Are you bothered by perfect protagonists, or do you enjoy a shining hero?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.