What makes a hero? Why do we root for literature’s greatest characters? Creating a great protagonist goes hand in hand with creating a great novel.
Create A Hero Who Is Relatable, Meaning Flawed
Humans, by nature, are flawed. In order to create a great protagonist who is relatable, they too must be flawed.
Think of the ex-convict Tom Joad, from Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath. Or Roland Deschain of Gilead, who uses people as tools to help achieve his destiny. We don’t love these characters because they’re perfect. We love them because they’re human.
Your protagonist needs to have humanistic traits. They should possess good traits. There should be moments of selflessness, and moments of bravery. But there should be moments of jealousy, envy, and anger. Your protagonist needs to experience trials and tribulations that ultimately guide them on their path.
Deep down we’d all like to believe that we could be great heroes. We want to follow the journey of the protagonist, and believe that they could be real.
Provide Enough Backstory In Order For Readers To Care About Your Protagonist
You don’t need to write down every thought your protagonist has ever had. You don’t need to take us through from the day they were born until adulthood. You can create too much backstory as well.
What readers want is a reason to care. A great protagonist has something to lose, and something to gain.
If they’re robbing a bank to pay for their sick child’s medical bills, that’s something the reader should know about. There should be some backstory into their life together. This creates sympathy, and that creates a character to root for. They’re flawed because they’re stealing, but they’re likable because of the reasons why.
A great protagonist shouldn’t be perfect, but in the end, the good should outweigh the bad.
Have Your Protagonist Make Difficult Choices
Your protagonist can’t coast through the novel. This creates an underwhelming plot that may not have readers by the end.
There should be several difficult choices to make throughout the journey. Choices that may involve life or death. Choices that might torment your protagonist for the rest of their life. A great protagonist creates their outcome through the choices they make.
Keep placing weight on their shoulders. A great protagonist should carry that burden throughout the novel. They may not carry it well, and it may corrupt them. But a significant amount of weight should always be there.
The more human, and likable your protagonist is, the more readers will enjoy them. Even in the superhero world, many protagonists are vigilantes. I don’t know if I would consider Batman, or Daredevil great people. But they are forced to make decisions.
In a corrupt world where you can’t save everyone, these protagonists become desperate. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Put your protagonists in a situation of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” This creates tension, and tension is good.
This brings you closer to your characters as well. As you’re asking your protagonist what decision they will have to make, you need to make one too.
These are the things that create a great protagonist. So get writing and create a literary character of classic standings. Feel free to comment on the post with ideas, or concerns. I would love to hear all about your creative process.