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One of my characters, Mallory is a 37-year old mother who is willingly strict with her son, as repulsive as that sounds it turns out she is remorseful over her parenting decisions and her son is deliberately badly behaved (a literally evil boy).

I have planned outlines for some sequels, Mallory is the most fleshed out of my characters. She always reaches a point of despair in each book-outline so far; for example, her son goes missing and she goes to look for him. It breaks her (I do this to show her mother-like bond with her son, in the beginning she just thinks he’s a normally badly behaved.

Do I need to make this character stronger so that she isn’t defined as sensitive, and put off the reader?

  • Please note that you need to hit Enter twice for a paragraph, or place two spaces at the end of a line before hitting Enter once for a soft linebreak. Having four spaces at the start of a line is for code formatting. There is a little help box at the top of where you type that can help you with markdown. – Secespitus Apr 4 '18 at 20:20
  • What is Mallory's character arc in your story? Is she sad and broken all the way throughout? – Alexander Apr 4 '18 at 20:28
  • @ Alexander No, she is a strong character - she is a briefly worried-sick character whose son often leaves the house without telling her, the worry of her loved ones is a dramatic weakness for Mallory – Edmund Frost Apr 4 '18 at 20:48
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    1) "willingly strict" isn't particularly repulsive as parents go 2) your "literally evil" boy sounds a lot more repulsive than a parent struggling to set limits with a disobedient child 3) is this a horror story? why do you have an evil child breaking his mother by going missing? – Lauren Ipsum Apr 4 '18 at 21:07
  • Wow. Guess I'm a repulsive parent... – Thomo Apr 5 '18 at 1:43
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Apparently it will all depend on the kind of book you want to write. Literary fiction is full of difficult characters. I don't think Captain Ahab is very likeable, and yet the book's a classic.

But in genre fiction (romance, fantasy, thriller, etc.), readers usually expect a character that they want to identify with. The protagonist doesn't have to be friendly and optimistic all the time, but they need to have something that makes readers live a story from their perspective – wit, tenacity, integrity, views on life that echo our own.

So if you want to write the next Faulkner or Ayn Rand, I wouldn't worry about what kind of character you have, only that your writing is good and meaningful. But if you want to write the next New York Times bestseller, you may want to think about what is likeable about your character, despite their sadness.

Maybe the person is sad because of something we understand and eventually gets over it, offering your readers a lesson in how to live a good life despite adverse circumstances. There must be something about this character that attracts you. Bring that to the front.

If your character is sad because it is the portrait of a real person, read my answer to this related question and consider whether you have failed to "fictionalize" them.

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I think you're getting ahead of yourself a little bit. But in brief, if you find the idea too repetitive during the outline stage, there's a good chance you won't have the fortitude to finish book 2 or 3. So it will never be an actual problem.

I've certainly noticed 'fatigue writing' in prolific writers, and I've noticed recycled ideas in prolific writers,

...and I do worry that I won't be able to develop my characters past their current state.

But that is a future problem. It may never actually come to pass. Your ideas sound like this. Something you are dwelling on, but isn't actually a problem today.

Write an awesome first book. You can always convert the others to short stories, or find a different PoV protagonist, or change storylines altogether. Many people in my writing club get bored with their characters after a few months to years. You may find the same.

Write a good first book. Don't worry about whether readers will like/dislike your character's flaws. Give Mallory a compelling goal and work from there.

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I don't think making Mallory stronger is the issue, but more varied. This sounds like a one-note character to me. What happens after she always reaches a point of despair? Somebody rescues her, or the situation resolves itself (like the son returning of his own volition)?

That would not be a good protagonist, that is a punching bag. A good protagonist takes action, even in despair, because there is always one more thing they can give up: Risking their life, for example, to make the situation change. They cry, collapse in a heap, then get up and do the next thing.

The arc of most characters DOES reach a low point in each story, but they must pull themselves out of it; by perseverance, or by some earlier investment (seen by the reader) (a kindness to others, a message for help resulting in the cavalry coming, etc) coming to fruition, or a wise preparation or just-in-case plan (seen by the reader) coming in handy, or just plain innovation (McGyver or Indiana Jones style).

Reaching the low point is not the problem. It is very important how the main character gets out of it.

Your second problem is your publisher. Even if despair is a fine low point for the first book, your publisher may turn down the second book if it looks like the first book; most do not want you to write the same story over and over again, they want something new. I would be worried if the low point in every book is exactly the same, the path TO it is the same, the path OUT OF IT is the same, I would feel like I read this story with this character already. What's NEW?

In the first book it is okay, we are learning new things about Mallory all the time, and she is a well defined character by the end. In the second book, we already know Mallory so as readers we aren't learning much new, and if the plot is pretty much the same the book becomes predictable and boring. Publishers won't publish a boring book, it is not easy to publish a good sequel for exactly this reason: You have to take characters readers already know, so there is very little the author can write about readers "getting to know them" or the characters "getting to know each other" and a greater emphasis on them doing interesting things to carry the story along.

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