Good character development is vital to keep your audience invested in your story. If you’re writing a YA novel, though, it isn’t always easy. Here’s how to write a protagonist for YA that your readers will love.
Making Them “Special” Won’t Be Enough.
Read almost any YA novel, and the text will probably assure you that its protagonist is special somehow. In high fantasy settings, they’re royalty, whether they know it or not. In dystopias, the government wants them dead for being “different.” It’s practically a requirement for a YA protagonist.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making your protagonist special. Wish fulfillment is one of the main appeals of the YA genre, and the reason why most young readers will want to identify with your protagonist.
However, to make a memorable protagonist, they have to be more than that. While you’re deciding whether your protagonist is going to be the princess or the peasant girl leading the rebellion, remember that won’t be enough to carry a story.
Let Your Protagonist Be Proactive.
Being special might be a good way to draw your protagonist into the plot, but it won’t always keep them there. If your plot has to bend over backwards to keep your protagonist at the center, your story will come off as excessively unrealistic, and so will your protagonist.
The best way around this is to make your protagonist a proactive character. Don’t let the plot or the supporting characters carry them through the book. Let them decide to be a hero.
It’s a refreshing change to see a protagonist make the decision to join in the conflict of the story, instead of simply watching as things happen to them throughout the novel.
It might be easier to simply make your protagonist the Chosen One, but this way they’ll probably be more memorable.
Give Them Flaws, and Acknowledge Those Flaws.
When you write a YA novel, you’ll probably be writing from the perspective of a very young person without much experience. They’ll probably be pretty naïve. If you’re writing in a dystopian setting, they’ll probably be pretty messed up, too.
Let this be the case. Some YA novels will claim their protagonist is wise beyond their years or smarter than their mediocre classmates. The truth is, nobody is really competent or wise when they’re sixteen.
It’s all right to let your protagonist make a few bad decisions. Anyone in their shoes would probably do the same.
The caveat is that you can’t let them get away with it just because they’re your protagonist. Doing so is dishonest and unrealistic, and it’ll probably erase any patience we might have for the protagonist’s teenage indiscretion. Let them face the consequences of their actions.
Writing a good protagonist is difficult, especially in the YA genre. As you plan your novel, remember that your protagonist should be more than a generic focal point for the plot. If you can make them seem like a real person, even an extraordinary one, your novel will be far more memorable.