Anybody else remember eight years ago when Obama said, “You’re likable enough, Hillary”? It’s one of the few times I’ve been annoyed with him, but I’m finding myself looking at Nita and thinking the same thing. “You’re likable enough, Nita. But that doesn’t win
Likability is usually a big deal in discussing protagonists, but I’m not a fan. I don’t care if you like my protagonist or not, I just want you to be fascinated by her, can’t-look-away captivated. If you like her enough to root for her, that’s a plus, but a protagonist who’s merely likable is also merely there. There needs to be sharp edges and sparkly places and a smudge on the cheek. There needs to be volume there, she needs to take up space in the story, fill the page when she walks in. As much as I want readers saying, “Can’t wait to see what happens next,” even more I want readers saying, “Can’t wait to see what SHE does next.”
Nita’s not there yet.
She’s closer because I know so much more about her now, like why she’s always cold and why she can drink like a fish and not get drunk and why she’s such a good cop. None of which makes her Her, the one all eyes turn to. Those are just character notes, they’re not character.
So the question I’m asking myself now as I look at that first scene again is, “Why do I love Nita?” Because I do. I love her because she loves her brother and sister even if she’s too repressed to tell them so. I love her because she’s so upset about Joey’s death and she’s not going to let it rest because he was a good guy and this is her island. I love her because she keeps going even when her world starts fragmenting around her because what else is she going to do? I love her because she loves food and dogs and the Nature Preserve. I love her because she’s about to become unrepressed, and she’s so frantic while she’s trying to understand her New Normal, but she still does her job. She’s just fierce and determined and passionate and expansive and good-hearted.
Now all I have to do is get that on the page in the first scene . . .
Edited to add:
You know who’s a great protagonist?