I’m quite sure that if you’d ever stumbled onto a writing course, or onto whatever piece of advice related to storytelling, you’ve been told at least once that the first key to your reader’s attention is to have a relatable main character. I have to admit that I’ve always taken this for granted and never stopped to wonder if it’s possible to captivate the reader with a weak or mean main character. This is the reason why this year I’ve put so much effort into smoothing out a lot of Lorenza’s sharp edges, because so many people told me she was too extreme (and I’m nowhere near to close to the end, by the way).
But has anybody ever dared to challenge this axiom? Do we know very little about it because the few ones who tried failed or because writers usually play it safe? And after all, is the concept of “likeable character” a universal one?
This kind of questions came to my mind last week, as I was reading “Three Immortals” by Bert-Oliver Boehmer. I have to admit that I spent the first third of the book asking myself why on Earth (or in outer space, since that’s where the story is set) should I care about the fate of such an asshole: self-entitled, spoiled, someone who has no remorses or second thoughts when it comes to crush others if they stand in his way.
Still I kept on reading: the book was well written, after all, and I wanted to see how far could that spoiled man get. He seemed to have his way a lot easy at the beginning, and I felt that something big had to be about to happen.
Needless to say, it did. Things get rough just when the main character seems to be sailing smoothly through his well-crafted plan to save his small Nominate from powerful enemies and gain power and influence in the meantime. I have to say that as much as I knew something had to happen, I didn’t expect it to be THAT twist, nor did I expect how the rest of the story unfolded.
And I love a well played surprise, especially as a reader: that’s why I devoured the second part of the book to see what else was in store. But I was still stunned by how despicable the main character was in the first part of the book, and how close I’d been to just stop reading the story.
I’ve been asking around and the majority of answers I’ve got seem to imply that a jerk as a main character is acceptable as long as they transform throughout the story (needless to say, for the best). I’d like to add another trick to have the audience care for a “bad” character, and it came to me as I read the book: have them face someone even worse than them. Because if the main character of this book is not someone I’d get along with, well, the actual bad guys are even worse. And there are many of them, so much more than I’d have imagined at the beginning.
Overall, I have to say that the story captured me page after page. Slowly at first, but slightly before the midpoint it became something I wasn’t expecting at all and it picked up pace. Even though the author didn’t stress too much on the protagonist’s evolution, it seems like the Universe isn’t safe yet: in other words, there’s still room for improvement.
But the thing I enjoyed the most in the book is how it seems to teach the reader to always keep an open mind and, most of all, it made me think what the word “humanity” really means. We are used to associate it to a positive attitude, but is it always the case? Can other forms of life be more human than mankind?