Saturday, January 28, 2012

Make a protagonist live

by Vivian Zabel  

         Every plot needs a protagonist, a hero or heroine, maybe one of each. How do we make them real, not caricatures?

          All stories and novels, even many poems, have a hero or heroine. More and more heroines fill the bookshelves, too. What characteristics do we want in our protagonist? For what do we search when we read, use when we write? Let’s examine creating a hero (I’ll just use the term hero for the rest of the editorial, but everything applies to a heroine, too).

         A hero needs to be believable.

         "Okay, fine," someone says. "How does a writer make a hero believable?"

         One way is to pay attention to the small stuff, the details. That doesn’t mean as writers we have to include everything possible in the story or novel, but we should have the hero so developed, in our minds, that he or she lives.

          Natashya Wilson,, as well as numerous composition books and my notes from writing classes, workshops, and clinics include the following information when examining the components of a hero:

1. The hero should be appealing and should inspire.

         Reading about him/her should give readers a feelings that they, the readers, too can achieve their goals. The hero should help readers to find courage and the will to continue. Any hero needs to be strong and intelligent, as well as be human with flaws that readers can understand, but with the ability needed to succeed.

         No matter what, the reader must be able to relate to the hero on some level.

2. The writer needs to develop the hero completely.

         I noted earlier that the heroes should be developed in our minds until they are real. We should have a background, childhood, friends, family, home, and likes and dislikes all in our mental files. We need to note his motivations, phobias, the people he respects. Not all the information will go into our stories or novels, but the details are there, making our hero real. If we made our heroes live for us, they are more likely to live for readers.

3. Every hero needs a special skill or quality.

         We should ask ourselves what gives him an advantage over the bad guy or guys, and why he doesn’t give up? Then we use those answers to enhance our hero.

4. The characters around the hero need to be interesting and fully developed, too.

         Those around our hero should be worthy of him. The love interest and the villains should have depth, be realistic and believable. The hero should have a reason to love the other person; the heroine should be in love with someone worth loving. The villain should test the merit of the hero.

5. The plot should grab the reader’s attention and challenge the hero.

         Readers have to care what happens and want to continue reading.

6. Make sure the hero has an emotional stake in the outcome.

         Another way to help the reader care is to create an emotional stake for the hero. He shouldn’t want to “win” just because it’s his job or is the “right” thing to do.

7. Add a touch of romance.

         A bit of romance enlivens the plot and makes the hero more human. The romance should not be the main focus or just thrown it, but it should be a natural part of the story.

         Many of today's stories and novels throw in romance and/or sex scenes without ryhyme or reason (used a cliché, I know). Anything inserted in a story, including romance, needs to add to the plot, move the story on, and/or enhance our interest in the hero or another character.

8. Write for your audience.

         Who do you want to read and enjoy the story or novel? The plot and characters should appeal to those people.

9. Make dialogue believable.

          Nothing ruins a hero, or a story, for a reader faster than stilted or contrived dialogue. Practice what you write. Speak it aloud. Try it out. Is there unnecessary profanity? Do characters “talk” so that readers understand as well as other characters? Listen to people talk, and then clarify for readers.

          The tips above will help make our protagonists live in our writings.

4RV Publishing  
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  1. I love this list. Most of it might be considered "common sense" for authors, but having a written list to look over makes it easier to read over and think "I have that, I need to work on that", etc.

  2. Right, Sarah, the info should be considered "common sense," but surprisingly, common sense isn't so common at time. *grin*


  3. Thanks, Vivian. Having only written a couple of longer stories, I appreciate all of these tips and suggestions.

  4. I try to share what I know and what works. Rena, with your abilities, you'll work your way into longer and longer stories -- if that's what you want.

  5. I love to develop a character that the reader can relate to and care about and cheer for. It's also fun to have a character to dislike and hope they get what they deserve. Great information, Vivian, thanks. I always need a reminder.