The Fourth Wall: Let’s Talk About Framing the Protagonist

08-25-18_1-15-00 PMHi, I’m Milo Pike and I’m a piece of shit.

08-24-18_7-27-20 PMLook, one of the first things I did in my short, simulated life was to steal this lamp from Geeta Rasoya. Do you like it? I do. I love lamp.

08-26-18_2-31-26 PM.pngI like her apartment too. I’m probably—no, definitely—gonna steal it. Gonna kill her to get it, because I’m the protagonist of a Black Widow, er, Widower Challenge.

08-25-18_1-18-31 PMGonna betray her dumb-ass son, too. I  mean, look at this guy. What a dipshit. He said this fruitcake was a family heirloom. Prepare to be homeless, Raj.

08-25-18_1-12-45 PMThat’s not surprising, is it? Every recurring character on this blog is a piece of shit, especially Tyler Teague.

I mean, forget about me for a minute. Tyler Teague, now that guy’s a piece of work.

07-01-18_4-53-26 PMThat guy will tell you females just don’t want to be with him because he’s ugly and they’re all shallow creatures designed to engineer the downfall of the white man’s great western civilization with their wanton, chad-licking ways. I mean, that’s some moronical whah-whah-woe-is-me shit, but that’s what he thinks.

How do you feel about Tyler?

It’s probably a mixed bag, honestly. On the one hand, he’s the star of the story. You experience the story through Tyler, and have been trained by decades of reading to have some sympathy for the character carrying you through.

On the other hand, Tyler isn’t framed as sympathetic. The author chooses specific words to frame him, words like “whiny” and “shrieky” and “felon.” This causes a disconnect, which your brain works to resolve. Love him or hate him, that disconnect gives you feelings.

Just like you have feelings about Walter White. Or Tony Soprano. Or Rick Sanchez, especially in the Rick and Morty episode where he attempts suicide.

Pieces of shit, all of them. Popular characters, all of them. Arguably, those characters have been framed in more sympathetic ways (especially Rick Sanchez in the episode where he attempts suicide), but still. Gallons of ink have been spilled defending their immoral garbage decisions. Gallons of ink have been spilled decrying those characters who would go up against these complete assholes.

But they’re the protagonists, aren’t they—the heroes of their own stories. We give them the benefit of the doubt because that’s what we do. That’s the cultural framework in which authors practice their craft.

Is it even possible to write a story in which the main character is a complete piece of shit without giving that character the benefit of the doubt? Can the author ever frame an evil main character in a way that overrides the sympathies a reader has for the protagonist?

If they can’t, does the author have a moral obligation to stop making protagonists who are pieces of shit?

most beautiful simProtagonists, for example, like me?


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