Create a Great Protagonist

Create a Great Protagonist


Some thoughts, from some knowledgeable people, on a very important aspect of writing – creating a great protagonist.

One of the keys that Michael Hauge stresses is to very quickly create, in our reader, identification with the hero or protagonist. To do this he suggests a variety of techniques.

One is to make the reader feel sympathy for the hero for any one of a variety of reasons. A past disaster, a broken heart or an illness. Put the hero in jeopardy so that the reader worries about him. Serious jeopardy. This is even easier if we have made the hero likeable. Preferably not perfect, for he must have flaws to be believable, but there must be some traits that encourage us to like and root for him. Perhaps they are equipped with a lightning sense of humour. Make the hero powerful. Power impresses, we identify with it. However, don’t forget his Achilles heel.

Another interesting take on creating a great protagonist, comes from Hal Croasmun of Screenwriting U, an excellent site that offers courses in screenwriting and all its associated skills.  Occasionally they will post free phone sessions detailing how to address and improve areas of your script, which of course can also be applied to your novel.  Yes, the sessions are to encourage you to sign up for a course, and you might want to.

His suggestion – and I think it is a great one – make sure your protagonist is inherently dramaticThe drama comes from their core character. Does the profile you have created for your character inherently bring drama to the scene?  Are they a naturally dramatic character who brings tension to every scene in your book because of their characteristics. He suggests that in doing so, dramatic characters create dramatic situations, are more interesting, engage the reader or audience more quickly, and are easier to write. I like that last idea.

As an aside, let’s face it, we all want our book to be made into a movie and it can’t hurt to have an outstanding protagonist.

  1. A)  Give your character a trait that creates conflict, such a being constantly cynical or selfish.
  2. B)  Give him a flaw.  Perhaps he is bitter about something that happened to him and it colours his response to everything, thus creating drama.
  3. C)  Give him a serious dilemma or problem that will create the drama you are looking for.
  4. D)  Give him a motive (obvious or hidden) that might create dramatic subtext in your scenes.

For my next lead character I am still going to keep him likeable (gotta be likeable!)  but I am going to try Croasmun’s approach.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.