I’ve been thinking a lot about character this week.
Most particularly, how bad a person you can make your protagonist.
The protagonist of my new novella (which should be published at the end of January) is a bad man. In the opening chapter of the novella he does something particularly nasty just for kicks. And my worry this week has been, how much is too much? Where’s the line where far enough becomes too far?
This is the story I started writing in 2002, before rewriting in 2008, before reworking for a final time now. That 2002 date is important though as back then I was watching a lot of episodes of THE SOPRANOS, and there is definitely some Tony Soprano DNA in my character. Albeit he’s a more parochial, small time, British version.
I should be able to take a step back then and think that since THE SOPRANOS was really successful, then if I can just catch a bit of that it will work. But then I don’t have the charm and charisma of James Gandolfini to play this character, he’s going to have to stand and fall on however well I can write him. And I am during my best to write him daring and roguish with a sort of thuggish charm, but my concern is will it be enough?
Will it be enough to keep readers with him even after what he does in the first chapter?
(I know I’m being deliberately and annoyingly vague here, as the novella is not quite finished – but suffice to say that what happens is between two adults. Two consenting adults, at least at the beginning.)
He has to do what he does from both a plot and thematic point of view, and to soft-pedal it would be to cheapen it somewhat, so I’m more than tempted to leave it as it is. But I have to get the balance right between having him do what he does, and yet making him a compulsive enough character that readers will stay with him despite what he’s done.
What do you think?
If you know already it’s a crime story, that the protagonist is an anti-hero, are you going to stick with him even as he does something horrible, but true to character, in the opening chapter?
Any thoughts, please do let me know.
Fancy a free FRJ short story? There’s one available here.