I recently attended a workshop (at the Wordstock Festival) that focused on a list of fifteen ways to writing better protagonists. You see, sometimes a writer has a dilemma because their protagonist is not necessarily a hero. There is a scale that goes something like: super-villain – – villain – – unsympathetic – – sympathetic – – hero – – angel. Novelists should be avoiding the extremes, but their main characters might not necessarily be a hero, or even entirely sympathetic.
When your main character isn’t a hero, then what are they? They might be a regular, ordinary, flawed human being. Think about your average person – someone in your office, on the street, whatever. Do you really want to read a whole book about this jackass? No, of course not. And in the case that your protagonist is a “hero” – are they someone who is untouchable, invincible? It doesn’t make for a very interesting story if there is no risk factor for a character.
Some of the points this workshop tried to make were along those lines. Making sure your ordinary people have one very interesting quality worth reading about. Making sure your heroic types have a flaw or two to bring them back down to Earth. And making sure your normally unsympathetic types (criminals, anti-heroes, losers, jackasses, etc) are fixed (for lack of a better word) so that readers can like or relate to some part of them, rather than be disgusted or annoyed with them the whole time.