Joanna Trollope is a popular author who has been called a modern Jane Austen. Intrigued by the blurb on the back cover, I recently read Trollope’s Marrying the Mistress. It describes the mistress as a character the reader can’t help but like. Well, I didn’t like her, didn’t like the cheating husband, and didn’t like the abandoned wife. But, I liked the book. This got me thinking about character-driven fiction, and if a likable protagonist is necessary to draw readers. Apparently not. Though I didn’t like any of the main players in this novel, the author’s analysis of the characters’ behavior, motives, and actions was enough to keep me riveted. Characters are important to me, and though I didn’t like the protagonists in this book, they are full-blooded, flawed human beings. In fact, the abandoned wife is so unlikable that it’s kind of fun to hate her. The popular phrase “the character is one you love to hate” rings true.
Still, if it’s not the protagonists I find interesting, there have to be other elements to a novel that keep me glued to the page. These can be interesting settings, an action-packed plot, or . . . supporting characters that add substance to the book. There are such characters in Marrying the Mistress. They are the suffering sons of the cheater, and some of his extended family. Perhaps Trollope is compared to Austen because she presents her characters in social settings where they exhibit questionable, humorous, sympathetic, or abominable behavior.
As a writer, of course characters are important to me. The fiction I write is character-driven. But, as a writer, I have to like my protagonist. Otherwise, I will not be motivated to tell her story.