There are times when you can give your main character a fatal flaw. A sin so bad that your readers will turn away.
I never realized that this was possible until I took part in a workshop and, to my horror, one person had his character “diddle” a little girl neighbor.
It’s not that the act itself was shocking (though it is). I’ve read plenty of books, fiction and nonfiction, with difficult situations. What was shocking was that…
…this was his main character. The hero. The guy I’m supposed to be rooting for.
Uh, I’m not rooting for a pedophile.
I recently read in 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story a similar piece of advice. It goes:
You can give a character as many redemptive qualities as he likes, but for me there is a line where a character crosses over and performs truly execrable acts that cannot be forgiven.
I think of this as the Anakin Skywalker problem–I’m supposed to believe that Darth Vader is deserving of redemption by his hillbilly moppet of a son. “There’s still good in him.”
Except then Lucas made the prequels and has Anakin murdering Jedi children, Force-choking his wife in a case of domestic abuse and, I dunno, probably setting up a brutal dog fighting ring on Tatooine.
I can’t get past that. Ruins the whole thing for me.”
~ Chuck Wendig
As a reader, I like flawed characters. I like rooting for the bad guy.
But, there’s a line somewhere. The second a character sexually abuses children, I’m out. No more rooting. I’m very much with Mr. Wendig on this one.
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