Previously, I've written about the dichotomy of the protagonist (Loser or Champion) and how they can be used for escapism (Pros and Cons). This post is going to be more about fictional inspiration and what happens when a protagonist does not bring this sort of strength to bear in a story.
It all started with a review I received for A Mage's Power. It spoke of its reviewer's dislike of the protagonist and how much more interesting the secondary characters are in comparison.
My protagonist, Eric, was written to be an archetypal loser. When I started writing him I wanted him to have nothing going for him; no special excellence to set him apart. This was to be a self-imposed challenge because of a trend I saw in the anime I watched at the time. They all had special protagonist powers: great strength of will, hidden talents/chosen one status, or a superpowered evil side. I wanted Eric to have nothing and work up to the level of hero without such privileges.
At the time I didn't know as much as I do now about protagonists in general and that medium in particular. I didn't know that I was writing something similar to a Harem Hero but without the harem. The usual case for that sort of protagonists is that they are indeed less interesting than the characters around them.
Tiza is a tomboyish glory seeker, Aio is a high energy prankster, Basilard is a veteran mercenary and all around strong individual. Even Nolien is defined with his healing and shifts between gentlemanly and snobbish behavior. Looking back on it now, I see that if one that does not feel sympathy for Eric than they feel consider him inferior.
I believe this has to do with what a reader is looking for. In other words, what they want out of the protagonist. When it comes to fantasy/adventure, Tiza or Basilard are closer to traditional protagonists, instead of Eric, who goes with the flow. This review was lukewarm; praised the secondary characters but didn't like the primary one.
Readers want to cheer for the protagonist. There are exceptions to this, but in many cases, they want to cheer. It's like a race; the front runners are the cause of excitement and the spectators are rooting for them. Eric is somewhere in the back of the pack where no one can see him. The goal of my self-imposed challenge was to develop him into someone that was cheer worthy by the end of the book, but then the book's over and there's nothing to cheer.
Fortunately, there's the second book. I can safely say that the Eric of "Looming Shadow" is not the archtypcal loser of "A Mage's Power".