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I want to root for the protagonist. I want to feel the weight of his burdens so I can turn around and celebrate with him when he overcomes them. However, occasionally I come across a protagonist who is so unbelievably stupid and useless I just can't bring myself to feel bad for him.

So it's a natural puzzle to me when other authors employ a protagonist who offers no comic relief, has no skills, relies on everyone else to solve the simplest of problems, and says so many dumb things my palm starts rubbing the skin off my forehead.

What does a protagonist like this add to the story?

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    They are the easiest to transform, to have growth, to provide a difference of skill with. Example, Fairy Tail has a similar character where there is a female spirit summoner who, for 90% of the show, is pretty useless. She does provide some comedy but her character overall has little growth in the series. Most of the "growth" she gets is due to her being in a strong group and they hand her items.
    – ggiaquin16
    Sep 11, 2017 at 22:37
  • Also, it provides some realism... not everyone is a super hero, not everyone is amazing. Not everyone is even average. If you had all the protagonists be the same personality and all be really amazing in skill, the story would be pretty 1 dimensional and boring. By providing a varying range of skill ability and personality, it adds depth to it.
    – ggiaquin16
    Sep 11, 2017 at 22:38
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    "Useless dolt" provides an unlikely point of view for the story. The story itself can be much bigger, and the protagonist would be an unwitting participant in it. Imagine someone like Julius Caesar had a dimwitted manservant, and you are telling the story from his point of view.
    – Alexander
    Sep 11, 2017 at 23:33
  • And what is the writing problem that you face? Or are you just interested in interpreting literature from a reader perspective (which would be off topic)?
    – user26338
    Sep 12, 2017 at 7:34
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    @what I'm picking a main character for a story and I wouldn't naturally pick a dead weight protagonist, but other people are doing it and I wanted to understand why before I made my decision. Sep 12, 2017 at 16:18

2 Answers 2

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A dull protagonist won't add much to a quest novel.

But some novels emphasize setting over character and plot.

In 1984 Winston Smith was dull, ordinary, smoked, and lived in an apartment that smelled like cabbage. But he was just a means for Orwell to show what society had become.

What if Winston had been brave and led the counter-revolution? It might have been interesting, but the emphasis would have been on the struggle, not Orwell's vision of dystopia.

Winston did struggle a little bit, but in the end he was just an ordinary Joe who got jobbed by the machine. He needed to be, for the book to work.

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If your protagonist is infamous or an anti-hero, representing him as a dolt can actually add to the reader's interest, primarily through comic relief.

For instance, many of the late- medieval/early-Renaissance Christian monarchs were nothing short of concentrated evil. However, a historical fiction novel set in 15th century Rome pretty much has to have the Pope either as the protagonist or antagonist. Good luck trying to sell a book with, say, Pope Sixtus IV, the author of the Spanish Inquisition, as the antagonist.

However, to focus on his few positives while poking holes through his ridiculous rationalization process can make the reader kind of feel sorry for him. Add in the monarchs as the antagonists. Then, focusing on a personal transformation can lead to a happy-ish ending (in this case, reserving a piece of the Holy Roman Empire in modern Germany and Poland for the Jews).

Coming-of-age awkwardness in either film or fiction is not uncommon. In the end, boy gets girl or vice versa. Again, we feel sorry for him, start to root for him with comedy thrown in, and want to see his transformation that makes him desirable.

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