Thanks for all your interesting comments last post. I think there are two main kinds of MCs who are hard for a reader to relate to:
1. An MC so different from us or annoying to us we just can't go along with the story.
2. An MC who is deceptively similar to us, so we relate to him/her until the character does something we would never do, which makes us dismiss the character all together.
I was thinking about #2 (number two…tee hee) because Dean is reading my current draft. He identified the most with one particular character, and then that character did something alien to Dean, and it made Dean frustrated. Dean thought, "I would never do that, so the character would never do that either." But I KNOW this character, and that choice was totally in keeping with him. That's one of the frustrations with being a writer. I can be true to the story and the characters and yet still fail some readers. There's just no way to anticipate every way someone will read a story and interpret a character. And if I tried, the story would be an overwrought disaster.
Commenter Delia made an excellent point: "hmmm...this is exactly opposite what I have done. I'm still a teenager, but looking back, I've always gravitated towards books with older main characters. Based on discussions with friends, I don't think that's uncommon. Maybe it's because when young we look ahead at what's to come, that we see ourselves in the future relating to these characters? Maybe younger main characters often sound more childish? But, of course, each book is different. "I recently read a book (one you recommended on your yearly round up, in fact), with an MC two years younger than me. I used to think about the same things as the MC, but now those worries sound silly and I'm glad to put those things behind me."
Thank you, Delia, I should have thought to make that point. I think your observation is common with teenagers. Few seventeen-year-olds read Seventeen magazine, for example. It's biggest with 12-15 year olds. In those years of growth, we don't want to look back so much as forward. A teenager often prefers to read her own age and a few years older--to early 20s, college years. But any older than that is often a turn off. Delia, does that sound right to you? While the opposite is often true of adults. We'll read our own age and younger but sometimes resist to read older.
A correction: I said about Becky Jack from The Actor and the Housewife, "I know there were readers who didn't like the book or wouldn't pick it up because they couldn't relate to a mother MC." I meant that her mother status and time of life was one reason why some readers didn't relate to her, not the only reason. Her religion, personality, life choices, etc., also may have turned off some readers. She is by far the most controversial character I've ever created. Poor, sweet Becky! I think she'd be so shocked to hear how many people just don't like her! I'm so grateful for the readers who did fall for her, and grateful for readers who didn't click with her but were still willing to follow her story and take from it whatever they needed.