Writing Prompt: Is it better to have a protagonist with a bad personality… or no personality at all?

Now here’s an interesting question that I should have some thoughts on, given how often I point out when the protagonist in an anime is boring or feels copy-pasted from countless other series.

Is it better to have a protagonist with a bad personality rather than no personality at all?

What’s it like to watch a protagonist with no personality? Technically, this shouldn’t be possible, as even the most robotic of characters has a personality. But of course this is just an exaggeration, and in reality, my interpretation of “no personality” is a protagonist whose personality is very plain, bordering non-existent. A character who doesn’t ever seem to make their own decisions, instead being constantly directed by their surroundings. There’s no real distinctive qualities to them. But this really is subjective, as someone who “goes with the flow” is technically a type of personality in itself. So your definition of “no personality” may differ from mine.

You’d think that such a thing would be rare, but instead, it’s actually popular beyond belief. That’s because one of the most common protagonist archetypes these days is the “average guy who had nothing going on in his life suddenly finds himself in a crazy situation” trope. And unfortunately, oftentimes being thrust into a crazy situation just isn’t enough to elicit any proper change from the protagonist’s personality.

And of course, there are many other stories which don’t use that archetype but still end up with that same boring “go with the flow” character.

Now, my interpretation of “bad personality” here is that the character’s personality is poorly designed (because otherwise, it’s completely subjective). I imagine inconsistencies like the personality not matching the character’s actions, qualities that don’t make sense or change without reason, stupid or unnecessary qualities, frustrating qualities (sometimes this is by design, but if it isn’t…), and things along those lines. You could also argue that some awful plot devices pushed onto a character, like amnesia, depending on how they are used, can contribute to a “bad personality”.

It’s definitely much harder to think of examples of protagonists that had a bad personality.

One thing that comes to mind is protagonists in several harem anime who are perverted, but when actually placed in situations involving women, they become super flustered and never do anything perverted. That’s something that’s always frustrated me, because it feels inconsistent. But I’m not sure if that alone would qualify as a bad personality. Just like a character somehow forgetting their entire childhood always comes off as unbelievable, but I’m not sure if that would qualify.

It’s hard to think of a character that ticks all of the boxes for what I would consider a bad personality.

There’s a bit of subjectivity to this, just like the “no personality”, because it’s hard to define exactly where the line is that would make a certain quality or a personality “bad”.

sasaki yuuka sad

So which is better? The “no personality”, or the “bad personality”?

If I am to follow my own interpretations of these, I’d actually go with the “no personality”.

While neither personality type is preferable, the “bad personality” just leads to a worse viewing experience. When a character is inconsistent and does things that make no sense, it’s not just our opinion of the character that suffers. Entire scenes, relationships with other characters, and even enjoyment of the story itself could be ruined by a ‘bad personality’ protagonist’s actions.

I’m not a big fan of the “no personality” type protagonist, who never seems to think for himself and just does what’s expected of him, or “does the right thing” always with no nuance, but I think it’s still better than a character that can actively sabotage the series. The “no personality” does a series no favours, but it certainly could be worse.


So those are my thoughts on this prompt.

What do you think?
Do you have different ideas of what a “no” or “bad” personality are?
Is one better than the other?

Until next time,
Thanks for reading.

10 thoughts on “Writing Prompt: Is it better to have a protagonist with a bad personality… or no personality at all?

  1. Oo, this is a tough one! I think I actually prefer a character that has no personality over one that has a poorly written one. With the character that has no personality, I can just assume that they are an extreme introvert and they just don’t express their emotions, but they still have them. But with a poorly written character they can actually be distracting to the story as a whole and make an otherwise good anime a bit annoying.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Understandable, although I will point out that often we are watching the story from the character’s viewpoint, inner monologue included, so I think even an introverted character would be able to convey their personality to us in those anime.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t watched much from that genre in a while, but thinking about it you’re spot on. The characters’ personalities are all typically just some trope, like the sleepy one, or energetic one, and so on.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The protagonist with no personality only exists for you to plug yourself into the roll. It is perfect for a young teenage boy who want to live some fantasies. I’m not that.

    The super perverted kid who gets flustered when he finally gets a chance? Kind of the same thing. Out teenage boy gets to say, “Oh! What a dweeb! I’d be into her pants in a heartbeat!” He exists for you to be frustrated by and feel superior too. Doesn’t ring my bell either.

    Of the two I agree that no personality is better – barely. But I also believe that neither is very entertaining.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Surely big tech companies aren’t far from releasing the bluetooth smartphone compatible roll. seeing as they love making everything and anything bluetooth and smartphone compatible.

        And agreed on all points, you were the one who first opened my eyes to the reasons behind protagonists having a weak or absent character for audience self-insertion. It makes total sense, and I hate it haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. To me a bad personality is subjective to the viewer and even then you can find something to like about said personality, whether it be an aspect or just how they express it. Even something like a perverted love interest not having the guts to do something with a love interest can have a reason define it later on.

    No personality is far worse because there’s less to define them or latch onto.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ultimately I think both of them are subjective, as even “no personality” could be considered a type of personality, so it’s hard to nail down the meaning for either.

      Both are awful, one by definition, and the other for reasons such as yours. But you make a great point; a non personality is forgettable. By comparison, a bad personality could end up being memorable or interesting in it’s own way.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. darkdaemonpk2

    It depends. If the character has no personality, then I suppose the story ought to be interesting to compensate for this. Otherwise, a wall is a better protagonist to begin with.

    Like

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