Monday, January 08, 2024

Is Your Protagonist "Different"?

 By Thomas Kies

I recently finished two books back-to-back that I enjoyed but for completely different reasons.  The Maid by Nita Prose and Holly by Stephen King.  

The Maid was described by the Washington Post as “A cozy mystery to take along on vacation . . . a lighthearted mystery that shines as Molly evolves and learns to connect.”

The book blurb for Holly reads “Holly Gibney, one of Stephen King’s most compelling and ingeniously resourceful characters, returns in this thrilling novel to solve the gruesome truth behind multiple disappearances in a midwestern town.”

These are two completely different novels with one interesting likeness.  Their protagonists are neurodivergent.  Until recently, I’d never even heard the term.  

According to Forbes Health "Everyone’s brain operated differently.  For the average individual, brain functions, behaviors and processing are expected to meet the milestones set by society for developmental growth.  For those who veer either slightly, or significantly, outside of these parameters, their brain functions could be classified as neurodivergent.”

It goes on to say,” Neurodivergent is a non-medical umbrella term that describes propel with variation in their mental functions, and can included conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other neurological or developmental conditions such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),”

The protagonist for The Maid, Molly Gray, is clearly autistic and utterly charming.

The protagonist for Holly, Holly Gibney, seems to be on the spectrum…and is utterly charming.

In spite of some of the descriptions, I’m not sure I’d describe the Maid as a “cozy”.  But it is fun to read and when you’re finished, you’ll feel good.

Holly, on the other hand, is grim, and as the book cover describes, “gruesome”. King’s writing is wonderful, of course, but I was happy to be done with the book.  

By the way, it was one of King’s more political novels.  He doesn’t pull any punches about people who refuse to get vaccinated for Covid, wear masks, and there’s no love lost for Donald Trump in the book. 

That’s not why I was happy when I got to the ending of Holly. While this was a mystery/thriller it was also classic King horror and this one got under my skin. 

In both books, the protagonist is “different”.  

Isn’t that what we want in our heroes?  We want them to be brave, of course, and driven, like a dog with a bone when it comes to solving mysteries and righting wrongs.  But we also want them to be different than regular people.  

The protagonists should be memorable and someone we care about.  A terrific example is Sue Grafton’s character Kinsey Millhone.  

And if it’s someone we don’t immediately identify with, we want to be fascinated by them, like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. 

Then there's the protagonists who are quirky like Monk and Columbo. My own recurring protagonist, Geneva Chase, has plenty of quirks of her own--drinks too much, makes bad life decisions, has questionable morals.  But she has a good heart and readers identify with her and like her.  

So, in your own “work in progress”, what makes your protagonist different?  What makes him or her likable? 

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