1. Abbey
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    Abbey New Member

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    Advice sought on Protagonist with a married man - should she be married also or single?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Abbey, Apr 6, 2016.

    Hi everyone,

    My name is Abbey and I've just discovered this awesome group.

    I'm working on my first novel but I'm struggling back and forth with my protagonist and I'm after some friendly advice please, as well as people's opinions.

    In short, my novel is a "Chic Lit" tale of a 30 something career woman having an affair with her 50 something married boss (such a cliche, I know). As the story unfolds we find out why the protagonist is the way she is (an event from her past), so she does evolve from more than just the stereotypical younger woman sleeping with another woman's husband.

    But here's where I'm stuck. Initially I wrote the character as married herself. Then I wrote her as single. Then I re-wrote her as married.

    I believe her also being married adds to the complexity of her character and her relationship with her boss, but I'm worried this will make her even more unlikeable to the reader.

    Any thoughts please?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    This isn't something anyone can answer for you because it all depends on how it's handled, what the tone of the book is, what the character arcs are, how it ends, etc. Both your points are valid about the complexity and the sympathy.

    Maybe send each version out to a couple of people and see which one has the most positive response?
     
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  3. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Not to put too fine a point on it, but has being married made the boss less likable?
     
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  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Tenderiser - there are a lot of different variables on this one, too many for an easy yes/no answer. It could be an interesting book if the story is as much about the MC's failing marriage as about her affair - what is wrong with the marriage that leads to her straying from it, or what is wrong with her, or whatever. Or it could be an interesting book if you focus more on her single life, her different expectations, etc.

    It depends what you want to write. I think either could work fine.
     
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  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Which development arc interests you more?

    If she's married and cheats on her husband, what made her stray? Is she unhappy and why?
    If she's single, how does the relationship with the boss affect her? Is there jealousy and does she entertain dreams of the boss leaving his wife and marrying her?

    I think with the former, she and the boss would be on a more level playing field as they're both basically in the same boat. Conflicts would arise from one of them deciding to stay with their current spouse or perhaps one of the spouses finding out.

    With the latter, your MC would be at a disadvantage, I think (but maybe not necessarily!), which would set its own problems. Would she consider herself the other woman, or would she think the wife is actually the third wheel? How serious is she about her relationship with the boss? Would she want to break it off but he'll have none of it, or vice versa?

    This is a decision we can't really make for you. Try to find out which story line would inspire you the most. Perhaps you need to continue experimenting and then see where different premises take you.
     
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  6. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Indeed. Reprehensible doesn't mean unlikeable. Case-in-point; Loki in the Marvel movies.
     
  7. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    If this is art imitating life: "Get back to work Abbey—we'll discuss this later!"

    My take on your options is that with one single the other married you'd be able to focus on the emotional tension between your two leading characters. Whereas if they're both married there'll be less an imbalance of status between them and you'll be minus a reason to include some drama...your focus in this case could then turn to their wider (other, more legit) relationships.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2016
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  8. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    I personally would like her less if she was married. Boyfriend, maybe. if you want me to eventually hate the boss, then make him married, and very loving to his wife when he interacts with her.

    I think the problem is, with your readers all coming from a vast degree of different backgrounds and morals, no one thing is going to be able to please everyone. So write what's true to the characters. If you don't know what's true to the characters, keep writing till you do, and then make any necessary changes.

    I'm assuming you are going to play it as she can't really hold down a stable relationship, and then the unfavorable affair with the boss forces her to grow up and face her demons.
     
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  9. Callista Reina
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    Callista Reina Member

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    I think she could be likeable either way, but similar to what Tenderiser said earlier, it depends on how you write her. If your readers are able to really get in her mind and understand/ sympathize/ empathize with her as a married woman, then she'd still be likeable. I think it just depends on how you want to portray her.

    If she is unmarried, I instantly get the impression that she might be lonely, naïve, desperate, and/ or, inexperienced. Not that your character is necessarily any of those things, those are just the clichés that come to mind.

    Of course, with a married character, I instantly think of someone older with more experience who might be having a midlife crisis and is unsatisfied with her marriage.

    Either way, both of these characters have been done before and have been successful and likeable (or at least easily identified with/ recognizable), so it really depends on who you want her to be. :)
     
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  10. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    Honestly, I think likable and unlikable are misused when it comes to protagonists. I've said it before and I will say it again: I did not like Katniss from the Hunger Games. I thought she was moody and honestly not someone I would get along with. But that doesn't mean I didn't relate to her. And I personally think that's more important with the protagonist. Let's face it, why was Bella Swan such an effective protagonist? (Now I said "effective" not good.) Because teenagers easily related to her awkwardness. And let's be real here: Does anyone like Dorian Gray? I don't. How about Macbeth? I don't honestly think you're suppose to like those protagonists. But I can shockingly relate to these characters. Maybe it's the fact that they're so unlikable that makes them interesting. And honestly, at least in the case of Dorian Gray, the story wouldn't have worked as well if he was a good, moral character.

    So whether or not your protagonist is likable is not so much as the point as if there's something the reader can relate to her. And whether or not there's actual real consequences to her choices. I think what people hate the most is when a character is doing something awful and gets off with no consequence as though the writer is advocating them. Then the protagonist comes off as rather weak and just a vassal for the writer to live out their own fantasy.
     
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  11. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I mostly agree, but why is it the author's responsibility to remind people say, murder, is wrong? You're essentially telling them that they have to write a reckoning or redemption story if they want to do a villain protagonist. Why can't they get away with things?
     
  12. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    I know I'm the absolute last person who should talk about "relatable" protagonists, but I gave up on The Firm by John Grisham after the MC cheated on his wife. Grisham did everything he could to show the reader the MC's viewpoint and make him sympathetic, but that backfired for me because I still didn't sympathize with the choice he made. With so much emphasis on the MC's excuses, I felt like I was being asked to buy into them in order to continue with the story. I might actually have kept reading if Grisham had kept some narrative distance or allowed for more ambiguity.
     
  13. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Well I will give it my best shot. :p

    Well it all depends on what direction you want things to go in. As @Tenderiser has already said:There are no right answers.
    How important is your MC's boss? More important question: How do you feel about your MC's boss?
    You have not provided enough info to make an informed decision. Your MC seems to be the one to look bad if she is married, and sleeps with her boss. If not she is being a typical young and adventurous (and ambitious) young woman, having multiple partners of varying skills in the bedroom.
    Next questions: Is your MC chasing an older man for money (sugar daddy)? Is she sleeping with him as part of a kink based on having daddy issues? And finally, is she just prone to promiscuous activity, and attracted to powerful men (He is her boss, so he has authority)?

    So yeah, gonna pass the ball back into your court. Not going to judge you based on what you have to say, just need a little bit more info. And by no means does any of the fore mentioned questions, make your character a 'bad person' (except maybe if she cheats on her husband). The only way to justify infidelity is if her husband is an ass-hat, and their marriage is circling the drain. Sometimes you have to ask the hard questions, to see what your MC is going to do. As well as weigh all the options for the pros/cons of each avenue that they could possibly take. :p
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You've touched on a point I was thinking about as I read through this thread. How did the affair start and who keeps it going?

    Did the boss pressure her into starting the affair? Did she pressure the boss into starting an affair? Did they both fall into this affair because the circumstances made it convenient (away on a business trip together, etc.) Do they love each other? Does one love more than the other? Etc etc. Do they regret cheating on their spouse/spouses? Do their spouses 'deserve' to be cheated on? (Maybe the spouses are also having affairs?) Are they willing to leave their current spouses, or do they just promise to and not carry through?

    I'm not asking these questions because I want to find out the answers here on the forum. I just want to point out that all these factors will impact on how likeable your characters are, @Abbey .

    Once you decide how YOU want people to feel about these characters, then you work hard to bring your readers on board. Don't try to do this by committee ...ie "more people would like him better if his wife was a bitch," etc. Stay true to your characters, and work on how a relationship between them would pan out.

    For me, an affair that starts between people who are married to other people quickly takes one of two turns. The couple realise they are in love and move to end it with their current spouses (the honest way out ...anybody can make a mistake in choosing a partner.) Or ...the couple go on for ages deceiving their spouses for various reasons. I have a harder time with that one, and suspect that the people involved are 1) selfish, 2) suffer from chronic infidelity and/or 3) are actually NOT all that committed to the person they're cheating with and see them as a 'bit on the side.'

    In my own life—even if I were single—I would not want to have an affair with somebody whom I know cheats on his wife and refuses to leave her (for whatever the lofty reason) or procrastinates about leaving her. Sooner or later, no matter how strong the connection, the rose-coloured glasses have to come off. If he cheats on her, he'll cheat on me as well? I know that sounds selfish, but it's not. It's just common sense. Anybody can fall in love with somebody they're not supposed to ...but that's what divorce is for. Keeping a secret affair going for years is another kettle of fish.
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2016
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  15. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @jannert I agree 110% with you on the subject. :)

    @Abbey You need to be committed to your characters, through the good and the bad. Be damned what anyone else thinks. Your characters need to be true to who they are, even if they turn out to be cheating turds. No one here can tell you what direction to take ultimately. Use your best judgement on the sticky situation, your readers will go along with whatever you choose. Even an 'unlikable' character can be interesting, even find a way to redeeming themselves. First you need to take the plunge and figure out how you want things to go. It is hard, but try to narrow down the right fit for your story line. I look forward to reading your work one day, so go and make it Epic. :p
     
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  16. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    As noted above, the first question is one of motivation. What motivates your gal to have a relationship with the boss? Most women don't cheat or even pursue men based on looks alone. There has to be something else driving their urge, particularly if it comes with a substantial downside of him being married (unless your character has a warped ego and blowing up a marriage is part of the fun). You need to determine the motivation of both of your characters. For the guy its far easier (being a similar age to the boss I can speak with authority): guys are attracted to good-looking young women. If she's pretty and makes any little sign of willingness its game on. We men are that superficial; most of us are just better at resisting these urges. If the boss' marriage is in the toilet, or its good but simply sexless (and this happens more than you may think) then his dalliance is easier to justify. But if you can't speak to their motivations with sincerity neither character will be likeable.

    I'll repeat jannert's comment "Don't try to do this by committee". I do not believe in writing to try to please an invisible audience. It is my belief that doing so will result in a lackluster product. You have to write for yourself. If you can please your own sensibilities your readership will follow because they will be people who think like you and your story will resonate with them. You aren't going to please everyone, nor should you try.

    What version makes the characters the most interesting to you? Which version feels 'right'? Only you can know that.
     
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