Creating the Perfect Protagonist

Creating the Perfect Protagonist

Stephen King on CharactersHe’s tall, dark, handsome, rich, smart, sophisticated, kind, philanthropic, loves his family and kids and animals, owns a rescue dog, is former military and yet still cares for the environment.

Are you sick to your stomach yet? Because I’m more than a little nauseated. If this guy really exists, only a small part of me wants my daughter to marry him. Mostly I just want to find dirt on him, because really, no one is that perfect. He’s hiding something. Or he’s going to make me feel bad about myself until the day I die.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret for writing fiction.

Be prepared for a four-letter word here. It’s one you hear so often in fiction, but I have to use it.

Think about your hook.

You’ve heard it a million times. The opening of your novel is so important. You only have a small window to get to that quintessential moment where you’ve hooked the reader.

  • Begin in the middle of the action (in media res) and you could confuse the reader. What’s happening? Who are these people? Why should I care?
  • Begin with too much setup, too much backstory, and you risk boring the reader with too much history, losing them before they’ve become engrossed.
  • But if you begin just before the hook, you have just enough time for us to see who the protagonist is in his regular life before a big change happens. That way, we can like him or feel sympathy for him or fear for him when the inciting incident occurs.

So it all comes down to establishing a character in his regular life just before the thing that changes everything. We need a reason to like this person. And the reason can’t be because he’s perfect. If he’s Mr. Tall-Dark-Handsome-Etc. that I described in the opening, it’s time to sit down and revise this character… unless that’s just a facade he projects to the world. If he has some hidden emotional scars and secret flaws that we’re going to learn about, then great. But if he’s really that vanilla, then, sorry. No. Prince Charming was already written centuries ago. Don’t plagiarize. Create someone new.

Stephen King says: I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.

The great writers create characters we can relate to, characters we sympathize with, characters we like and root for. Only once we’ve bonded with them will the writer turn their worlds upside down. But we’ll be hooked from that first word, because that character isn’t perfect.

He’s just perfectly suited for the world the writer has created.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: