Dark World Series: Flawed Protagonists

As I continue working on the fourth novel in this series and also looking back on the first three, I find myself thinking of a recent (and only) one-star review that I received. The review was on my first novel, The Surface Girl. The reviewer’s complaint was that they strongly disliked my main character and said that her flaws and panic attacks (in the first novel) were so annoying that they didn’t finish the book.

I don’t get offended by the opinions of others. I am fully aware that absolutely no book in history has ever been universally loved by every single person who has attempted to give it a read. When I chose to publish, I accepted that there would probably be a wide range of different responses from my readers, so my focus was on writing a series with genuine characters that I was proud of rather than trying to create fluffy characters and cliche plots that would give others warm fuzzies. (I’m not a romance writer, that’s for sure!)

I always welcome different points of view and I take constructive criticism to heart as I want to continue to improve. Sometimes we can’t always predict how things will be perceived by others, but I will always consider everyone’s POV that they choose to share with me and I will carry those thoughts forward as I continue my writing journey.

Oddly, reading that review gave me a lot of relief. There are so many things that a writer could say in giving a one-star review that may actually be hurtful or cause a person to question their talent. Again, I don’t let the opinions of others get to me, but some people are just mean for the sake of being mean and that’s when I struggle to not take it personally. I was glad that did not seem to be the case with this reader. The writer wasn’t tearing apart myself, my plot, or my world-building. All they were doing was sharing their opinion of my MC.

I’ve always been a panster. (A writer who doesn’t outline and plot out her novels ahead of time.) I am at my best when I sit down and just let the story flow by the seat of my pants. Somehow, everything seems to come together that way. Sure, I have a few things here and there to work out during the editing process, but when I’m in the zone, I feel like I’m a bystander, a recorder of information who is simply taking a more passive role and writing the story sentence by sentence as it seems to manifest on its own.

The main character of this series, Ruby, is a sixteen-year-old girl. She grew up in a highly structured and insular environment, and the stressful and terrifying events that begin to unfold throw her whole world into chaos. Because of her insular upbringing, she never had the opportunity to learn coping skills that would enable her to deal with the extreme situations that she finds herself immersed in in a healthy way. In the beginning when her life begins to unravel, she has panic attacks. She makes rash decisions. She runs away and just hopes that things will turn out okay (they don’t), and sometimes she just shuts down. Once the harsh reality hits her that running away or shutting down doesn’t make the problems that she is facing disappear, she starts to figure out how to cope simply by trial and error. She is an intelligent and resourceful person, but again, she can’t just pull coping skills out of a magic hat. She has to learn them the hard way.

Even though I’m in the process of working on the fourth book in this series, Ruby is still flawed and she still struggles with making the right decisions. She has come a long way from who she was in the first novel and she isn’t always the most lovable character, but I feel like you’d be hard-pressed not to empathize with her plight. I don’t feel that it would be in any way realistic to expect her to be more capable than she is. I of course hadn’t intended on making her so annoying that she deterred a reader from finishing the book, but I did take some time to reflect on that person’s response and ask myself if my MC was potentially TOO unlikable.

I encourage anyone who rolls their eyes at Ruby (I can’t blame you, I roll my eyes at her, too!) to hang in there. She does learn from her mistakes, she does grow as a person and she does become more capable, but like most of us, this doesn’t happen overnight. Its an ongoing process.

I will say this about Ruby; she CARES. A lot. She deeply wants to do the right thing and she is very conscious of the fact that she could easily cross certain lines that would cause her to become like the monsters that she despises. That’s her biggest fear, so sometimes when the smarter decision would be to throw someone under the bus in order to save herself and/or her loved ones, she struggles to do so. She’s a good person. She’s a complicated character, a flawed character, but her heart is larger than she realizes and in my humble opinion, she’s worth sticking by and getting to know. I recognize and realize that she has cring-y moments (don’t we all?) but give her a chance, you won’t regret it!

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