You’re writing a book, and you have a main character you love. You take this character on a journey, and you think your plot is solid. All the hard work shows as you reread your story and give yourself a pat on the back. When you send your manuscript to beta readers or a critique group, you get feedback you weren’t expecting: Your protagonist is weak. The horror! How could this possibly be? It could be reasonable that you are missing some key points when developing a strong main character. I’m here to break down five things every protagonist needs to help keep your main character on point.
Is your character comfortable? In other words, are you writing a character the reader will be comfortable getting to know? Is your character likable or interesting? A dull main character is not going to engage your reader if you don’t make him or her favorable enough to carry the book. Make sure that your MC has qualities that will let the reader cheer for them when faced with difficult situations or empathize with them when they don’t achieve their goals. Your MC needs to be your reader’s “friend.”
2. Clear Goals
The protag isn’t worth a lick if they don’t have a clear goal. Make sure to set the stage for a dream or goal the main character wants to fulfill. Whether it be small or big, they have to have some kind of motivation to move the plot of the book forward. Or else they are left spinning their wheels.
You must create a character that is real. This goes hand and hand with comfort. Show your character’s weaknesses, their downfalls, personality flaws, and little things that set them apart from the rest. Nobody is perfect, or you’ll have a Mary Sue or Marty Stu on your hands. If you have an MC who looks like an Adonis but has a chipped front tooth, that’s realistic. Give your character a workable personality so your readers view him as a hero and a real person at the same time. Mr. or Mrs. Perfect can get old very fast.
4. Conflict is Key
If everything is hunky-dory in your story, what’s the point of reading it? You need conflict to keep the reader interested and willing to see how your protagonist will overcome it. Everyone wants to root for their hero, so give them a reason to. Conflict can happen because of the choices your characters make or something they can’t prevent from happening. I like to label them as motivated conflict and unmotivated conflict. Motivated conflict is based on a character’s personal weakness that could be preventable. For instance, your protagonist is an arrogant star quarterback who expects to win the big game, but conflict happens when said character misses a key play, letting down his whole team and losing his scholarship in the process. Unmotivated conflict is when your main character is happy; just landed the perfect job, has the perfect house, the perfect significant other. Everything is great for them. Until they find out they lost their job, their spouse leaves them, and the bank threatens to foreclose on their house. This is something the character has no control over happening.
This is the most vital aspect a protagonist needs in any book. If your main character doesn’t exhibit some kind of growth—whether it’s learning from their weaknesses or overcoming their earlier conflict—the reader will be left unsatisfied. It’s like eating a large, delicious meal but being left starving afterward. Show your characters overcoming their obstacles and emotionally growing as they do.
I hope this helps. Please share with us what you think of this article.