Ok, before we freak out at each other in a yelling match, I’m using the word “Your” in this case to sound inflammatory. It’s a crass attempt at causing controversy, reinforcing the whole “publishing gatekeepers are jerks” meme, and probably a little bit lazy of me. But really, you, whoever you are, you have created a stunning protagonist that does not fit any of these categories. Or, maybe a little bit of one, but certainly not enough for us to get all worked up into a fight.
(1) Too Perfect Syndrome—you ever read about the dude who was a black belt in like six different martial arts, was a professional sniper, could crack a joke, bed a starlet, probably shoot scratch golf, and made restaurant quality waffles? That dude bores the living hell out of me. If your protagonist seems conveniently shiny and skilled, I don’t like him. I don’t believe him. It’s much easier for me to feel empathetic with flawed characters like me.
(2) Anybody could jump that hurdle!—I recently read a submission that was well written, had me turning the pages at a good clip, excited to see just how bad things could get for our heroine. How hard would she fall before rising triumphantly to overcome the challenge? Well, as it turned out, it was like she mis-stepped off the curb, lost her balance, did that thing where you pretend to jog a few steps because you don’t want to look like a jackass, and then finished her walk to the finish line pretty much unscathed. I need to know your protagonist has been tested for me to cheer her on.
(3) Frat Boy Wins Again—though this may sound similar to #1, it’s actually different. We see that Chaz Dollarstacks, the Ferrari driving, handsome son of business tycoon Wellington Dollarstacks is living up the night life. Maybe a little coke. Maybe a run in with a black hatted frat boy (likely turned backwards) on the golf course. At stake? A five million dollar antique lifted from somebody’s personal art collection. Fuck all of these dudes. I hope an Atomic RazorBomb makes the scene and they’re all cut off the map. This differs from #1, because we see that Chaz is flawed—he isn’t perfect—but because I don’t fetishize hanging out in VIP until 4 a.m. or playing polo in the Hamptons, I don’t really give a shit about the guy. Your mileage (and audience) may vary.
(4) “Oh, this guy?”—Sometimes when a tv show or movie is really popular, you can watch a wave of what essentially amounts to fan fiction come in over the transom a few months later. Back when The Shield was a weekly thing we got a submission at Bleak House about a rogue cop named something like Nick Slackey (that’s not it exactly, but it was something just as close) who didn’t play by the rules but always got his man (even if during the process he created more problems for himself). I want to believe that your protagonist is a singular character of your invention and not some irregular pulled from the assembly line. I only read about 20 pages of the Nick Slackey book, but I’m pretty sure if I would have finished it, there would have been a love letter to Shawn Ryan at the end that said, “Bro, whaddya think? You wanna adapt this for season six?”
(5) Plywood and 2x4 Man—As I’ve already talked about way too many times on this blog, I like to travel. I love to meet new people in new places all over the country. I’m especially excited to hear new turns of phrases, new dialects, twisted pronunciations, and things like that. I grin like an absolute idiot when I hear particularly good ones. Language is so alive and vibrant. How you say things is sometimes just as important as what you are saying. So when your character sounds like my iPhone reading something back to me in ways that are grammatically correct but are absolutely without spark and are totally unrealistic as far as actual conversations go, I’m tuning out. Without spark, there is no fire. Without fire, I’m cold. When I’m cold I stop reading and look for shelter.
Am I missing any? Am I unfairly including some? Have you ever been guilty of any of these? Have you ever been guilty of anything?