My Protagonist May be Too Mean

As the edits on the manuscript for my first book in a series of four moves onwards, much has improved. My villain has a more defined and distinct personality, the action has been taken up a notch, and the world it builds has grown more defined and real.

I am faced with a problem though, the problem of my hero.

The protagonist in the story, a massive red dragon, is proving to be a challenge. He is over a thousand years old, and has a reputation and ill temper to boot. That is my main worry. I may have made him a little bit abrasive for the reader.

Never-Heroes-Zhyx-The-Dragon

Detailed illustration of Zhyx the red dragon’s face in profile for the novel Never Heroes.

Zhyx, or ‘Red’ to his companions, was supposed to be a character who would have been the villain in any other story. In many ways he is similar to Smaug from The Hobbit. He is nasty and mean spirited, vain and boisterous, an absolute legend in his own mind.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 7.32.49 AM

When the story begins, Zhyx is meant to be menacing and imposing. Though he narrates the story in the first person, I wanted the readers to feel his presence, and be intimidated by his personality and self assured superiority. He is a scoundrel, and he knows it. It is that beginning that makes the journey and changes he goes through more worthwhile. You can’t just have the character start off being perfect, but you at least need to keep them interesting for the reader.

I wanted him to be a menacing and cruel character, but in a fascinating way so the reader would be curious what he does next. There are such characters that have been successful, such as Harry Callahan from the Dirty Harry series.

The problem is when you start off on a note like this, you could lose the reader. If the reader doesn’t warm up to the character by a certain time, they will jump ship before the change even takes place.

Indiana-Jones

The main inspiration for this series was not Smaug believe it or not, but my favorite character of all time, Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones is the quintessential everyman hero. He has a down to earth job as a college professor, troubled relationships with his family, a less than successful love life, and that’s even on the best of days.

When he’s forced to take on his role as the action hero, he is awkward and clumsy, fights dirty just to win, and scarcely comes out of his adventures looking very good. That’s what I like about him. Since he doesn’t execute his plans perfectly, they seem more real, and are thus far more engaging.

My protagonist fancies himself like Smaug, but he really is an every man wrapped in the body of a great wyrm. He is pulled into an adventure by forces beyond his control, and is humbled by his experience. This allows the reader to see who he really us underneath in spite of his efforts to convince them otherwise. He finds that he is not much different from the every man. He must no longer be a legend in his own mind, but a legend for real.

Since my hero narrates, he tries to sell the reader on the image he prefers. It is not his narration that reveals who he really is, but his actions in the story. The issue I face is just how far do you go when delivering a character like that? What level is acceptable for the reader and how much is too much for them to take anymore? Zhyx not only insults the characters in the story, he isn’t too kind to the reader either. How condescending do I go before the reader says “I didn’t pick up this book to be insulted” and put it down? How do I show who he really is early enough for them to stick with it? Or should I even try?

It is a tough tightrope to walk when writing a character like this. Hopefully we both don’t fall.

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