When We Don’t Like The Main Character – A Rant

Please tell me you’ve been there too

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There’s no denying that here at Cabeswater we fall in love with books all the time. At the same time, however, there were more than a few books that left us with a bitter taste in our mouths.
Picture this: You pick up a book with an amazing premise, glorious cover, great ratings on Goodreads, etc. only to put it back down – or in some cases hurl it to the other side of the room – because you don’t like the main character.

Please tell me you’ve been there too.
It’s such a shame when a terrific story is ruined by the main character’s terrible qualities. Since that character is the centre of the story – especially if it’s told in a first person POV – it’s hard not to have an opinion on them that eventually affects your opinion of the whole book too.
So, here are 3 things that personally make me dislike the main character of any book:
  1. The ones who never stop complaining

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I’ve read a fair share of books that have this kind of protagonist; the one who fills paragraphs with angsty and occasionally shallow thoughts on why the world doesn’t revolve around them. We, as readers, complain all the time in our everyday life. When the protagonists rant to us about their problems we can often relate to what they’re going through, which is great. Here’s the thing though: it’s one thing to complain and another thing to complain and then do something about it.
When the protagonist adopts a “woe is me” attitude and continues to drone on and on about how terrible their life is – especially if all of this is happening in a tell-not-show first person POV – we have a problem. I have to admit I left a book unfinished just because of this one thing about the main character. I want the main character to fight for themselves and resolve the conflict instead of whine helplessly and miraculously stumble upon the solution to the problem, is that too much to ask?
  1. The ones who cannot prioritize
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Remember what I said about books with an amazing premise? It’s especially heartbreaking when a genuinely good storyline ends up being put in the back burner for the whole book because the character cannot prioritise for their life. In a lot of cases, the intriguing storyline that pulled you to the book in the first place turned out to be a background setting for the main character’s love story. Love, in this case, is a strong word because we see protagonists flailing over people they’ve only known for a week all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love having romance in a novel, but only when it fits. When the character spends 80% of the time traipsing around with their potential partner instead of solving, oh I don’t know, their father’s murder case then we have another problem. Bonus points if in the midst of them ignoring the main storyline they do something to make the problem worse and force all the other characters to clean up after their mess.
  1. The ones we see in almost every book
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Clueless girl who is invisible, into quirky hobbies & non-mainstream music, and misunderstood by society. Dashing bad boy with a rep sheet the size of a continent, piercing (insert gem color here) eyes, and an obsession with leather jackets. He sees her and chooses her out of the the crowd that has always ignored her…like a sacrificial goat. She becomes his therapist, listens to his tragic life story, and changes him for the better. Oh my god.
There are countless different versions of this dynamic in a lot of YA novels. Sometimes it pans out nicely, the romance makes sense, and the characters have personality. Other times it ends up being tragic, the romance is messy (and in some cases even problematic), and the characters don’t seem to have any other purpose in life besides to end up being with each other forever. Repeat after me: Girls do not need boys to feel special and boys do not need girls to make them a better human being.

These are only a few things that have made me dislike a book’s main character in the past. Throughout my time writing this rant, I had flashbacks of all the different characters that fit these descriptions and I, kid you not, physically shuddered. Hopefully, the books that I’ll read in the future will have main characters who avoid these descriptions. And if not, I guess I have another rant to look forward to. Have you ever experienced the same feelings? Are there any other qualities that would make you dislike a character?
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