Twisted Protagonists

So many inspirational thoughts run through my mind while reading Dostoevsky. Perhaps that is why he is my favorite author. Perhaps it is why I admire him so much. In any case, Dostoevsky’s character description are without equal and brilliant, so vibrant, colorful and varied. And something then occurred to me, and I know it’s been said before, but this feeling wasn’t one I get from reading an ah-hah article.

Make your character flawed. A perfect character is superbly boring and will not hold the reader’s interest. A solid fact, a staple for any writer. But how flawed? Minor quirks won’t cut it. Making your character abnormally tall or hideously ugly isn’t a flaw. How I tackled this basic rule is by choosing one of the seven deadly sins and applying it to every character, good and bad. Of course, the sin would be accentuated in the antagonist(s). However, the protagonist(s) would still be heroic and striving for the good cause. And my characters were still boring to me.

Enter Dostoevsky’s unforgettable characters. Give them more than one deadly sin. Make them entirely twisted and dejected. I don’t mean dejected as in the repressed adolescent way. They need reasons to feel this way, legitimate mature reasons from a specific cause, and from a recent cause. And make them absolutely lovable and sympathetic while making them the most horrid and vile of humans.

And how does he do that? How do you sneer and frown at one of his characters, yet feel so much sympathy for him and hope that everything works out well for him? Well, I see that one way he achieves this is by having another character love him. I’ll give a specific answer, and try not to give the story away while I’m at it. Brothers Karamazov. Dmitri, an older brother of Alyosha, is a vain, quick-tempered, and vindictive man. Alyosha, on the other hand, is meek and good-willed. Dmitri exposes his flaws to Alyosha, and as the reader, you’re aghast at the words that come from Dmitri’s mouth (as is Alyosha). However, Alyosha refuses to see Dmitri’s filthy side of his personality as all he is, and Dmitri is taken aback by Alyosha’s kindness. So Dostoevsky has just planted the notion that Dmitri really is not so awful, and you suddenly realize that Dmitri must change, he HAS to change and become a good man.

Of course, it’s not quite that way — Dostoevsky’s characters may change, or they may never change. Yet, as far as Brothers Karamazov goes, the reader has somehow become so close to Dmitri that the faith in him is always there. That’s the magic of Dostoevsky. My opinion is this: by having such a twisted character as an MC, s/he needs another character to balance the negativity out. Except for the most hard-headed of all of us, most humans tend to seek support in any endeavor, including approving of or disapproving of someone. And that second character provides that assurance for us.

And perhaps another tactic he uses is to expose the MC’s flaws little by little. He may seem quite normal at first, but by page 100, you know he’s got issues (or is in the process of turning into a pyschopath). Have pages upon pages of character description of that twisted character. Well, the extraneous pages of character description is not much approved of these days (which I do not approve of — this current trend, that is), so I wouldn’t quite give that out as advice if you’re trying to gather a fan base.

Don’t be afraid of making your characters so evil that they might as well be the antagonist. Don’t hold back on them. Make them as bad and harsh as possible. They just might make your story. After all, we live in a day of extremes, right?


About Jessica M

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