Quote Originally Posted by Barbara R. View Post
I agree that perfect characters would be unrealistic and boring, so naturally we want our MC's to be flawed. But, as you suggest, there are flaws and there are flaws.

Almost any flaw can be forgiven or at least accepted by readers if the character has other traits that make us care strongly about him: for example, if he's struggling mightily against his own worse tendencies. I tried to think of something really unforgivable and came up with child molestation...then I remembered a Kevin Baker film that came out some years ago in which he played a child molester who is trying hard to reform. You start out determined to hate him; you end up feeling deeply for him. As for psychopaths: read Patricia Highsmith's brilliant Tom Ripley novels to see how a master does it. When you are immersed in the mind of a character, you tend to see him as he sees himself; and most people see themselves as occupying the moral high ground, or at least the center.

So even the worst sins can be rendered understandable, even forgivable...except one, and it's hardly a sin at all IRL. Passivity in the MC is the one problem I don't think can be overcome--at least, I've never seen it done. If a character doesn't care about his own life, why on earth should readers? MC's need to be a bit larger than life, or there's no point reading about them. We might as well go stand on a supermarket line and eavesdrop: boring! The risks they take, the intensity of their feelings, even the mistakes they make should be greater than we normally experience or encounter. But a passive character is smaller than life.
^^This. Ripley was the first character I thought of when I read the OP. You can't get much more 'unlikable' than him, yet Highsmith's approach to presenting his story brings you round to his POV of himself.