Any aspiring writers have had this sentence float across their ears at least once in their life. “Your protagonist must be likable”. It’s understandable why this advice is so commonplace. At the heart of almost every great story is a strong, likable protagonist. Frodo Baggins in “Lord of the Rings”, Andy Dufrene in “The Shawshank Redemption” and many more. On the other end of the scale, we have the infamous anti-heroes. “Deadpool”, “The Punisher” people who do the wrong thing for the right reasons. These characters are normally bad people, but they have some quality that makes them likable and/or relatable. Usually a tragic backstory or a hidden kindness. Deadpool is one of the best as he has an extremely tragic backstory and a wickedly brilliant sense of humor.
For a long time, due to the evidence showed I believed these were the only two options for a character types that a writer should use. This changed when I saw the film “Nightcrawler”. “Nightcrawler” is a fantastic film because it breaks this rule. Its protagonist (played to perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal) is not an anti-hero and he is anything but a hero. The plot of the film is as follows “When Louis Bloom, a con man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Throughout the film, the protagonist uses a news story as leverage for sex, he finds two criminals who are responsible for a shooting and purposefully incites a shootout between the police and these criminals which causes multiple deaths including the only man who has stuck by him just, so he can get a story.
This protagonist is not likable. Every action he takes is despicable. However, unlike the other protagonist mentioned above, he is given no motivations for said actions. He also has no hidden kindness, only a revolting personality, and a perverse moral code. He is not likable like Frodo Baggins, he is not multi-layered like Deadpool. However, he is interesting, the protagonist is so despicable that he holds our attention as we are on the edge of our seats to see what he will do next.
Looking at the evidence from this character, the advice “your protagonist must be likable” is true, but only partially so. I think that from now aspiring writers should heed this advice “your protagonist must be interesting”. It is true that a likable protagonist that the audience can relate to is important. However, it has become evident that if the protagonist is not relatable but is interesting it can have the same impact or perhaps a better effect on pulling the audience into the story. Good luck writing. Also, watch Nightcrawler, because it's f***ing awesome.
Thanks for reading. Did I change your mind with this essay or do you disagree with me? Let me know in the comment section below.