FIRST PERSON NARRATIVES HAVE TO PASS
THE ELEVATOR TEST:
WOULD YOU WANT TO BE STUCK IN AN
ELEVATOR WITH THAT PERSON
FOR SIX HOURS?
My husband has a different version of this test. He calls it the "elevator shaft test"* and he applies it to the protagonist and any other main characters in a book. He asks himself, "If this character fell down an elevator shaft, would I care?" If the answer is no, he stops reading the book. If the answer is, "I want to push the character down the shaft myself" then the book gets thrown against the wall. You get the picture.
He tends to want likable - not perfect - protagonists. I don't necessarily need to like them, but I have to find them interesting and compelling enough to want to see what happens in spite of the fact that I don't like them. The funny thing is, in real life, my husband is the more patient of the two of us. He'll put up with a lot from others. Me? My patience is apparently reserved for people on a page.
All types of people inhabit the real world, so why shouldn't they live in our story world as well? The same goes for readers - some want a hero to root for and a fairy tale ending, others want a complex and dark protagonist with a glimmer-of-hope ending, while others want something in-between.
I say let's give our readers the best characters and the best stories we can. They can decide who they want to chat with in an elevator and who they would rather run up twenty flights of stairs to avoid. Remember, it takes all kinds.
* This comes from an ancient episode of the TV show "L.A. Law" - and now I feel old - where one of the most disliked characters on the show falls down an elevator shaft. Literally.