No one roots for the little engine that couldn’t or would recognize Beowulf if he muttered, “I’m doing the best I can.” The appeal of Katniss Everdeen isn’t difficulty choosing between two guys, or even her solid moral center.
At least in others, not giving up turns us on. And this applies to both characters and those who create them.
The cast of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird lives by this adage: “Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
As George R.R. Martin, who authored Game of Thrones, puts it:
My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded, some failed, most had mixed results... but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.
This dovetails nicely with Margaret Mitchell writing in Gone with the Wind: “Hardships make or break people.” What screenwriting guru Linda Seger calls “pressure points” reveal character. Those who haunt and inspire are at their best when adversity confronts them. What a winning combination: thicken the plot with dire circumstances, use those to drive arc, and wind up enriching tension, adding dimension, maintaining momentum, and highlighting theme.
Tip: Subject your characters to circumstances that demand perseverance.
Now. Is it fair to expect more of your characters than of yourself?
Perhaps one particular writing issue cramps your style. That could be character perseverance, causal plot, artless voice, sleek sentences, or whatever. Pretty much every writer must deal with something. Do you face yours with the determination you require in your protagonist?
Or maybe it’s the actual time and effort. Do you write often enough? Seriously enough? Maybe you frequently rationalize, procrastinate, take the easy way out, give up too soon, or make everything but your writing a priority. Hmm. Does pressure elicit the best from you as it does from your protagonist?
Marketing. Say you’ve truly revised—deeply and thoroughly. You’ve solicited feedback and responded to suggestions. And you begin submitting. Five rejections later, you quit. Among others, Louisa May Alcott, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Stephen King, Herman Melville, J, K. Rowling, Anita Shreve and Gertrude Stein did not. Any message there?
According to Maya Angelou, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Tip: Remember The Little Engine That Could.