We writers have a habit of falling for our carefully crafted protagonists. I mean, after spending 70,000 odd words with them, what can we expect? It’s only natural we fall in love and/or lose the ability to be objective. It’s one of many reasons why editors are so important to our mysteries/sci-fi/novels or short stories.
So when writing, you need to know how to avoid mistakes when creating a protagonist. There are four common mistakes you can easily avoid when creating your protagonists.
The most common are:
1. A LACK OF OBJECTIVITY
2. NO DEPTH
3. NO GROWTH
4. FAILURE TO CONNECT
One of the biggest results of a lack of objectivity is a bloated manuscript. Those scenes spilling aeons of family history, or the minute details of your hero’s pug-puppy stamp collection, really aren’t necessary.
A LACK OF OBJECTIVITY
One of the biggest results of a lack of objectivity is a bloated manuscript.
Depth is somewhat subjective. What one reader finds beautiful, another may hate. But there are some easy wins you can implement to help you create depth.
Don’t give your hero an overwhelmingly positive personality – heroes who are overly positive make your reader feel like they’re being accosted by a perky cheerleader at the crack of dawn when they haven’t had caffeine. It’s a bit much, even for the most tolerant reader. We all have off days; it makes us human and gives us depth. Your hero needs the occasional off day too.
Your hero must make mistakes. Likewise, we all make mistakes. It’s how we grow. A hero that never makes a mistake can come across as annoying, patronizing and make the reader feel inadequate. LET YOUR HERO MESS UP AND LEARN LESSONS.
Your hero’s personality needs to be a consequence of his history – we are a product of our history. When a character isn’t, it can create an uneasy feeling in the reader.
The reason Indiana Jones is scared of snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is because he fell into a pit of snakes as a kid. The audience knows this, so the fear makes sense. CONNECT THE DOTS. PLANT THINGS IN YOUR HERO’S PAST THAT BECOME RELEVANT IN YOUR STORY.
Actively drive the plot forward – your hero takes the risks and faces the greatest danger. It’s Harry that kills Voldemort. IT’S YOUR PROTAGONIST WHO MUST DRIVE THE ACTION FORWARD AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, MAKE THE FINAL BLOW DEFEATING YOUR VILLAIN.
FAILURE TO CONNECT
A failure to connect can happen on two levels: disconnecting with the audience, or the hero disconnecting with the other characters and the story. The cause and cure are one and the same.
The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.Your protagonist is the manifestation of your story; the web that pulls all the elements together: flaw, theme, supporting characters, plot, obstacles, change arc etc. should all be linked.
The entire story is connected, which is why it connected with readers.
Essentially, what you need to remember is this:
While your villain is the source of page-gripping tension, when the words are read and the dust has settled on your back cover, it’s the hero that your readers remember.
The hero should connect every element of your story. He should grow and change and drive the plot forward all the while representing our ‘flawed’ human nature.
Let your hero make mistakes. That way, when your hero has the ‘ah-ha’ moment, your readers will too. Much as it makes me weep, eventually, villains are defeated. But heroes are like puppies. They’re forever, not just Christmas.
Are you prone to some of these mistakes when writing your protagonists? Please leave your thoughts below.