Frantic Puppy Protagonists

They’re adorable and you love them, but do they ever do anything useful?

Gina Denny
9 min readMay 13, 2022

In the summer of 2021, I read a very popular YA fantasy. Very popular — more than 750,000 ratings on Goodreads and more than 12,000 Amazon reviews. It enjoys a 4+ star rating on both sites. It was a few years old, but it was one of those I kept meaning to pick up, so when I finally got around to it, I was pretty excited to read it.

About halfway through, though, I realized the protagonist hadn’t … done anything. She had been kidnapped (more or less) and had watched a lot of terrible things happen. She had shouted her disapproval and tried to escape, but she hadn’t changed the course of events in the book. She was there, she had front-row seats for all the action, but that was it.

This was odd, so I started to really look more closely through the second half of the book. I really wanted to see the moment where all this helplessness turned into action, when her hidden talents leapt out onto centerstage to prove that she was the right person to be at the center of this story.

No such luck.

By the end of the book, the bad guys had triumphed mostly, and the foothold the good guys had was thanks to someone else, not the protagonist. She was a bystander for the whole thing.

She did a lot of stuff. She punched some people, just to be put back in handcuffs. She shouted at people, just for them to not listen to her. She ran…

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Gina Denny

Author, editor, publishing professional. I help you make your writing better.