Welcome to the warm, sunny month of July. Here is our setup for the next two months. This month is all about the protagonist and the good guys. Next month will be all about those pesky antagonists and bad guys. If you’re completely confused as to what those two terms mean then please check out my blog on Character Development. I break down all the terms you will need to know.
As I was doing research for this weeks post and I came across an interesting article on the differences between a Hero, Protagonist and a Main Character. John August does a great job in breaking it down as to which label suits which term – so give him a read if you’d like. I will be doing my own breakdown about it here as well (though definitely give John a read.)
- Main Character: this is who the story is about. They are the focal point of the story and the action.
- Protagonist: is the leading character or one of the major characters in a play, film, novel, etc. This character has the potential to change and/or change over the course of the story. They drive the plot of your story!
- Hero: this is the guy/gal that you want to win. They have something big that they need to overcome or defeat, especially if they are a superhero.
Basically, they all mean the same thing. It’s how the writer deals with them or the circumstances they are placed within that make them a bit different.
Now what is going to make the best protagonist? Here are some tips:
- Use real-life people as inspiration. I personally like to make my characters have traits of my friends and family members and I sometimes use, with a twist, their real life problems for my own characters. It gives me faults and good qualities that I can pick from and it also makes the characters believable because they’re actually real people from my life. I’m not saying that I base my characters solely on my friends and family – I don’t – but it can help if I can’t think of anything for my characters.
- Your character has a problem that they need to solve. This is something that only your protagonist can solve or solve it the best. They need to have something to make their lives more complicated and interesting. For example, they need to solidify their marriage again as they have drifted apart from their partner.
- They have the ability and reasons to act. They’re going to want to solve whatever problem they are faced with – for the most part. (There are exceptions for every rule.) In order for them to solve this they are going to want to solve it and they have to be able to do something to solve their problem. For example, in the Harry Potter series, we have Harry trying to stop Voldemort from destroying the muggle and wizarding world with his prejudiced beliefs. When Harry and Dumbledore find out that Voldemort created Horcruxes, they figure out how to destroy Voldemort. In the previous books, it was all about Harry just surviving the challenges Voldemort set for him, but with this new knowledge Harry can act towards eliminating Voldemort’s evil and he has good reasons for doing that.
- They have something to lose as well as something to gain. You’re going to want your character(s) to be rewarded for their struggles, but you also want them to know what they can lose. It’s an area for your character to grow if they don’t get what they want or they fail, etc. Again using Harry Potter for an example, Harry achieves his goal of getting rid of Voldemort, but he has to lose friends and family, and his own life, in order to achieve this goal. However, sacrificing himself for the sake of others has its own reward and Harry is allowed to live again – making a lot of readers happy.
- They have the capacity to change. Your character needs to learn something or at least try to learn something that is going to make them better as a person or that changes how they view others and the world around them. For example, Christian Grey, in Fifty Shades of Grey, realizes that he needs to compromise and change his lifestyle in certain ways in order to keep Ana in his life. He does change a little bit for all you nay-sayers out there…
- They have an interesting flaw and a compelling quality about them. Flaws give your character a chance to grow. It may be why your character is in trouble in the first place and they need to overcome their flaw in order to overcome their conflict. The character can be aware or oblivious to this flaw. As to interesting qualities, they’re what keep your readers interested in your character. It can be something that’s completely against what the rest of their personality is like.
- They have a secret. This just makes things more interesting to the readers and it can make the plot more diverse and engaging. Pretty Little Liars does this really well. The four female characters all have secrets that they want to be kept private and this makes readers come back for more as they want to know if the secret is revealed to the other characters in the story. As another note, you can also keep a secret from the readers, such as who the identity of A is in Pretty Little Liars or Gossip Girl.
- They have someone or something interesting trying to stop them. If they didn’t have someone trying to actively stop them from achieving their goals things would get boring and readers love having someone to love and hate at the same time. Kim Possible is an excellent example of this. A lot of the time she’d have to battle with Dr. Drakken and Shego. Dr. Drakken was interesting as he did have a lot of great ideas and grand plans for world domination, but he could also be the stupidest person ever. Shego was the best match for Kim for strength and ability. Their fights were close to draws as to who got the better of the other fairly consistently. Shego was also a good match for Dr. Drakken for being the smarter of the two – she also wasn’t as passionate as to what they were doing. She played things more calmly than Dr. Drakken, making them a great villain duo for Kim and Ron to fight.
- Make sure they are engaging with the world around them. Make them question what is going on in their world, have agency to do things and to make change, and doesn’t just sit back and take what life throws at them. For example, Katniss, in the Hunger Games, questions the need for the Hunger Games and willingly steps in for her sister. She doesn’t accept things at face value and challenges the status quo. She also rebels against a lot of the rules of her society.
- They have habits. These are the things that they do regularly or do only in certain circumstances. This could be twisting a lock of hair around their finger or making sure all the pens on their desk are straight and symmetrical to each other. These things make a character interesting and reveals a bit more of their personality. Just remember that these are habits – they need to be repeated multiple times throughout your story to make them true and meaningful to the character.
- Give them a past. They may have just been born in your imagination, but they will have a life story. You can share this with your readers or you can hint at it and keep it a secret. This gives the character more roundness and makes them interesting. It helps set up a foundation for their actions. The more specific you get about their past or specific instances makes them more interesting and unique.
- Have them interact with friends and/or family. This gives them a different medium to interact with others. It shows us a different dynamic in their lives and another aspect of their personality.
- Give them a code. This is what they live by. They will not break this under almost any circumstance – if ever. The best example of this is Dom from the Fast and Furious series. He throughout every single movie says that family is the most important thing in his life and he lives by this example. He will do anything for his family – whether blood related or not. Even when they are threatened and he is coerced into “betraying” this code he still adheres to it in the end.
And these are just some of the ways to make an incredible protagonist or main character. There are always going to be more suggestions on how to make them great, but if you are making your characters unique and interesting you should be fine. This list definitely highlights a lot of the necessities – flaws, good qualities, etc. – that you should really think about before or during your writing.
Until next week.