The Wheel of Archetypes: The Highly Relatable Protagonist

You’ve seen them before, somewhere, you’re just not sure. No matter what world they live in, this character’s like someone you know suddenly caught up in a magical adventure. Which, in fact, is the whole problem. HR is not a conscious writing choice. HR is a symptom of creators’ fear of breaking the mold. Ironically, HR is often a character who is sold as “breaking the mold.”

HR will never earn this accolade, because HR is appalling.

The Highly Relatable (hereafter HR) Protagonist has exactly one major trait. They have been precision engineered by a veritable legion of focus groups and scientific analysis to avoid putting off anybody. They’re so inoffensive you’ll likely find yourself siding with the one-note villain they ultimately defeat. That villain did stuff. That villain had personality traits, even if they were all super-generic evil traits. HR might be a man or a woman, and that’s usually about it. Anything more peculiar than that would be too much. HR cannot under any circumstances be a queer-spectrum individual, because large sections of the population are bigots and that’s a demographic you just have to hit. HR’s probably a brunette, but not an attractive brunette. People might be jealous and/or masturbate to HR, and we can’t have that. HR is bog standard in every conceivable way, as well as some you wouldn’t have thought possible.  HR’s only strong traits are ones which pretty much everybody can agree with. Usually, this means a moral code and total unfamiliarity with anything out of the ordinary.

HR does not have special abilities. Those are reserved for HR’s friends, along with the superpower of “being a developed character.” HR is an empty vessel, a blank slate onto which readers and the suppurating wound that is fanfiction may etch whatever diseased images they please. Exceptional strength? Hell no, get that jock bullshit away from HR! You think people can relate to someone who’s spent years training to become a stronger person? What kind of weirdo would do that? Mesmerizing charisma, yeah right! Nobody likes a charming protagonist, you snobby fuck. High intelligence? Well, Dinn is our resident thinky person, see, and HR needs to be neither an incandescent genius nor a cavernous empty braincase. This is so everything can be explained to the reader HR via having people talk about it, instead of writing it into the narrative.

HR is bad writing, pure and simple.

I don’t need to cite you examples. Again, this archetype is common enough now you have your own. So many “brave new world” or “first adventure” stories rely on this stock protagonist model. Some writers are strangely reluctant to include a main character with any standout traits at the beginning of the story. Now, maybe most people in the real world are pretty bland (SUCK IT, NORMIES). That doesn’t mean a main character should be. Regardless whether you’re writing realistic fiction, speculative fiction or something else entirely, you chose to follow one particular person. Your lead should not, then, be a bland everyperson inexplicably chosen for greatness. Again, maybe bland everypeople are chosen for greatness (or at least a facade of it) in the real world, but we’re not talking about the real world. We’re talking about books.

This isn’t just a character misstep, it’s a worldbuilding misstep. Think about it: how many times do you see the HR protagonist have to be told basic rules of the world when they’re a teenager, or even a young adult? Have they not lived in this world the whole time? Shouldn’t they already know a lot of this stuff? They also never seem to have any established life plans. Why not? Isn’t the adventure more meaningful if they have some other choice? That’s a topic for a later article, I think.

There’s not going to be a turn around section to this post, I’m afraid. HR can’t be salvaged. HR cannot be helped. HR is literary trash, now and forever more. Let them remain in the landfill, where they can be highly relatable to garbage.

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