The main goal when writing a protagonist, or any character for that matter, is to make them come alive. They should feel to the reader like a real person, and the reader should be able to understand them in the same way as any other person they meet—meaning, the reader should be able to predict (to a degree) how the character will act and react to situations based on their personality and their background.
Writing a character in this way is challenging, though, as you must write them so vividly that the reader can understand who they are without you specifically saying much about them.
The most common mistake new writers make is not giving the character a proper backstory. You as the writer should know this character as if they were your best friend. But, all of this information—their relationships, background, personality—can be overwhelming, and surely you can’t add all of it into the story, right? Of course not. Most of this information will never make it into the story, but it’s just as important as the rest in understanding your character and writing a good protagonist.
So, in today’s post, we will be going over the necessary information in writing a great protagonist, which information to include, and everything you’ll need to know.
The Key Points to Writing a Great Protagonist
The Information You Need to Know
The more personality and backstory you create for your protagonist, the more real they’ll feel. A good rule of thumb is to separate your character’s information into three sections: personality, backstory, and relationships.
Your character’s personality is what makes them unique and influences how they will react to situations. Is your character outgoing, introverted, ambitious, lazy? You’ll want to form a full personality for your character, which may seem stressful, but to make it as easy as possible, here’s what I recommend. Start with a base personality like a Myers-Briggs personality type. You’ll have a fully-formed personality with little-to-no stress.
Once you understand who your character is, it’s a good idea to give them some quirks to make them come alive even more. Maybe they’re a nail-bitter or they always wear a big red hat. Whatever you choose may not come up often in your story (if at all), but the more you know about your character, the easier they will be to write.
The character’s backstory is all about how they ended up where they are now. Creating a full backstory includes things like their childhood (Was it good? Who did they grow up with?), major events in their life (Did they get into a major accident? Did someone close to them pass away?), and similar information.
Their backstory will allow you to better gauge how they react to the world around them. Again, this information may not come up in your story, but it’s a good idea to have it ready and on hand.
Your character’s relationships will probably come up most in your story, so work to be as detailed as possible in this section.
The main relationships you should know are the supporting characters in the story. You’ll want to know their relationship to the main character, how they get along, how they met, where they’re from, etc. Once you understand these relationships, you may want to dive deeper and describe the protagonist’s relationship with their family, friends, and anyone else close to them.
If you’re wondering how to keep track of all of this information or what questions you’ll want to have answered, I have a post all about using a story bible, filled with questions to answer, a downloadable PDF, and what a story bible is and how to use it.
How To Incorporate This Information Into Your Story
The purpose of having all of this information is not to write it all down in your story—that would be boring. Instead, the reason you created this information is all about how it influences your character. You will use this information to understand how your character interacts with their world, the people around them, and the situations you put them in. For example, if your character had a tough childhood due to distant parents, and that experience left them disliking their parents, you may show that by them interacting coldly with their parents. The fluidity of your character’s actions will make them come alive to the reader.
To have a good protagonist, they need to change in some way, for better or worse, by the end of your story. Whether you’re writing a novel, a trilogy, or even a longer series, your character should in some way be changed by the end of each book. If your character stays the same as they were in the beginning, then nothing really happened.
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