I’m dying to get my hands on a copy of James W. Hall’s Hit Lit, but I keep forgetting to grab one. The book analyzes the elements that make bestsellers take off and become successful. According to Hall, there’s a couple of really key factors at play. One of which is that the main character is often a misfit, outsider, or loner.
IRL, these people are typically on the strange side of things. They’re the weirdos trolling internet forums about, say, soil pH levels at three in the morning. But in fiction, they’re the characters that attract readers. Think about Holden Caulfield, por ejemplo. Book reviewer Dave Shiflett writes that “protagonists with mass-market appeal tend to be mavericks, misfits or loners and that they often come from fractured families and communities.” Makes sense, right?
Speaking of misfits – one of my all-time favorite outsiders is actually named The Misfit. He appears in Flannery O’Connor’s 1953 short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” (That book also has the distinct honor of having one of my all-time favorite least likable characters: the ultra-judgy and hypocritical grandmother whose moral superiority prevents her from begging The Misfit to spare her family as he murders them in cold blood. She is delicious.)
Image by haagenjerrys, via Flickr
The Misfit is very complex. This escaped convict brings up religion, guilt, Jesus, and family trauma in the space of just a few lines. He’s in prison for allegedly killing his father, but he says his father died of the flu; then he sends the family off to their deaths out in the woods. My favorite quote of his:
“‘I call myself ‘The Misfit,’ he said, “because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.’” (129).
Perhaps he wasn’t originally guilty, got punished anyway, and is making up for lost time?
In the spirit of all things misfit, I’ve come up with a writing prompt for today.
Compose a draft of a creative work where the main character is some kind of misfit, loner, or outsider. Why are they? How did they get there? What are their motivations, and what happens?
Enjoy! Feel free to share it with other readers in the comments.