6 Ways To Make Your Protagonist Shine
The protagonist is the character who’s fate matters most to the story. And that, in turn, is the character whose fate matters most to you.
Stephen Koch, Modern Library Writer's Workshop
Do you know who the protagonist of your story is? Is there only one protagonist or two? Are they resonating with your readers or you? If you’re struggling to write a great protagonist, here are some key points you should watch out for.
Your protagonist doesn’t have to be likeable
A main character doesn’t have to be likeable. Tony Soprano and Don Draper come to mind. According to Chuck Wendig from Terrible Minds, “Instead of likable, aim for livable. Meaning, we need to find this character compelling enough to live with them for the duration of the tale.”
We’re not just talking about external conflict. We tend to focus a lot on what’s happening around the protagonist because it’s easy to see. It’s also easy to write. How about internal conflicts? Sprinkle the story with some personality clashes and internal issues, and you got yourself an interesting character.
Make a stronger antagonist
According to Joe Bunting, “the stronger you make the antagonist, the better your protagonist will look when he wins. The more you increase the values of your antagonist, the more interesting your protagonist becomes.”
If you’re stuck on your protagonist, begin focusing on your antagonist. According to Joe, “The best way to characterize the protagonist is through an antagonist. An antagonist, or villain, is not necessarily evil or “the bad guy.” Instead, the antagonist is the protagonist’s opposite, their shadow or mirror.
The human mind loves to compare. It especially loves to compare people, and by characterizing your antagonist, you naturally create a comparison that characterizes your protagonist.”
Highlight the strengths, and sprinkle it freely with some flaws
How many times have you read about a character that couldn’t do anything wrong? Or a character that just kept screwing up? Gets kind of boring, doesn’t it? Shannon Donnelly expands on this from her blog post from Writers In The Storm:
“It’s too easy to focus on just one side of this. The hero who is not only handsome, but tall and talented, and just too good to be real. The heroine who is beautiful and brave and fearless. Or even the bad guy who is nothing but mustache-twirling evil.
Characters that don’t have both flaws and strengths start to be boring. A protagonist who doesn’t screw up—or who does nothing but screw up—is going to lose readers. Do yourself a favor and make the main character’s main trait something that is both strength and a flaw—most traits come with a good side and bad.”
Try to make the flaws interesting
This goes back to our fascination with reality television. I’m always amazed on how infatuated some of my friends can become with certain reality show characters. All i see are severely flawed personalities seeking attention. The thing is, if they were normal, they would be boring. The very flaws that turns me off reality tv are the same flaws that have millions glued to their tv every week. Make your character’s flaws interesting, and you’ll have your reader glued to every page. According to Janice Hardy from Fiction University, “Perfect people are boring–it’s the flaws that make them interesting. Flaws also give you an opportunity to show character growth and give the protagonist a way to improve himself. Maybe he knows about this flaw and is actively trying to fix it, or he has no clue and change is being forced upon him. Maybe this flaw is the very thing that will allow him to survive and overcome his problems. Or the cause of the entire mess.”
Keep your protagonist busy by taking action
How many people do you know are known to take action? There’s something to the saying ‘action speaks louder than words.’ Translate that to your protagonist and you’ll have an interesting character. Shannon expands on this:
“Actions show the reader the character’s personality better than anything else. If you have a protagonist who is a marksman, have him shooting a gun and making patterns on the target. If you have a financial wiz, have her signing a deal that nets her an easy million. A character who is worthy of his or her on story is one who does things.”
Your protagonist is the lifeblood of your story. The character doesn’t have to be likeable, but does have to stand out. To sum it up, a good friend of mine described it the best. She said, “a reader’s journey with your protagonist needs to be a roller coaster ride, not a cross country train trip.”
Do you have any tips on how you go about developing your protagonist? Share your thoughts below!