10 Tips on How to Write a Protagonist

 

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A protagonist is the central character of a story. Unlike side characters, the hero influences the story the heaviest. Because the hero holds the plot together, developing a solid character is vital.

Below, I’ll discuss some tips on how to write a protagonist; things that should assist you with your hero’s development. These are guidelines, as the majority of the hero’s creation comes from the author.

How to Write a Protagonist

When learning how to write a protagonist, there are several things to keep in mind. How each parameter lines up can influence both the protagonist and the plot.

1. Gender

This is one of the more prominent points when you write a protagonist, as the POV can change considerably with the hero’s gender. I read an enlightening series of forum posts that discusses male and female characters. You can check this and this for additional information.

Stay true to your character’s quirks and personality. Don’t let traditional stereotypes interrupt that creative flow. If you hit a roadblock, ask a reader of the opposite sex. Often, he or she can add some insights to your character design.

2. Race

Whether your hero is Caucasian, African, or some fictional alien race, have that racial background define who they are and their ordeals. Maybe a particular breed of space elves are hated in society, or they lack a specific trait that humans take for granted.

3. Height, Weight, Body Mass

Maybe your hero is a short, fat dwarf or a lanky human. How they appear to other characters can influence how the hero comes off. Perhaps a tall protagonist looks formidable and therefore commands respect.

Maybe give your hero some facial scars, a distinguishing feature that sets them apart. Make them unique, as the main character should be.

4. Secrets

Any reader enjoys secrets; even better are secrets within secrets. What I mean is, wrap your main character in mystery. Give them an enigmatic past and don’t give out the answers too quickly.

Have your secrets evolve as the hero progresses through the plot. This evokes intrigue and helps pull the reader in.

5. Character Flaws

“There’s nothing more boring than a perfect heroine!”

DrosselmeyerPrincess Tutu

Tension is fundamental on how to write a protagonist. Incorporate conflict into your characters, whether in their backstory, gender, race, or physical limitations. You can also give them technical flaws, like the inability to perform a skill or a specific action.

Giving them too many perks and too little flaws result in a bland, uninteresting hero. You want to challenge your hero, not make them a god; nor do you want them to fail in their quest.

6. Attributes

As in video games, especially RPGs or tabletops like D&D, a character in a story has a given set of attributes. These parameters define what the actor is good at, what he or she may fail at, and perhaps unique modifiers that make the character stand out from other characters.

First, define what kind of a character, or class, the actor is. Take your stereotypical warrior: they—usually—have high strength and resilience to trauma. Warriors may not specialize in other fields of ability like magic or stealth, but they have their toolbox of skills to make up for it.

Characters like the warrior fit a niche in a company of heroes, whereas others party members address their shortcomings. Having one character do all the work often comes off as lazy and boring. Give your characters a challenge that pushes them to their limits.

7. The Hero’s Journey

The hero should be someone who struggles through the impossible. The protagonist should suffer but persevere. This is a reflection of the journey we all go through—the Hero’s Journey.

It is vital when writing a protagonist that the hero is relatable to your audience. This draws readers in and generates sympathy and a sense of kinship with the hero. Plot out your story using the Acts found in the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell did an excellent job in his novel, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I highly recommend this book.

8. Antagonist

An antagonist complements the protagonist, forming a wholesome plot. The villain often provides the tension and challenge to the hero. In traditional works, the antagonist is a reflection of the hero with exacerbated personality flaws. It could also be a father figure.

9. Leveling Up

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As a character progresses through a story, they level up or gain additional attributes. With games, the hero adds new parameters to their character sheet. In a novel, leveling up is more subtle. The author may demonstrate this as a character acquiring a new artifact/weapon for study, graduating from school, or finishing a spellbook.

The development of new experience enriches the character’s worldview and the way they handle problems. A rookie fighter may view a few brigands with horror, while a veteran would display confidence.

This system of progression enhances characters and leaves a player or reader with a greater sense of appreciation by the end of the story. Typically, characters begin with little to no experience and graduate to seasoned fighters by the end of the plot.

10. Tropes

If you’re still struggling with how to write a protagonist, check out TV Tropes here to browse a list of familiar character tropes. That may give you some idea of what you’d prefer in your character.

As an example, the farmer hero trope is heavily used in fantasy settings, but it still works. My main hero of Ethereal Seals starts out as a half-dragon farm girl who trains into a knight by the end of the story, yet she fails at some tasks that others take for granted.

There are endless variations to this trope alone, and putting your original spin on it will help it stand out.

Conclusion

Learning how to write a protagonist can be a complicated process. There are certain factors to keep in mind, like gender, race, body proportions, and flaws. Tropes provide a convenient starting point for character creation. Remember to challenge your hero—introduce some tension.

I hope this article has provided a good idea of the thought and time put into a character. For more information, please check out the provided links throughout the page.

Thanks for reading. Much love and gratitude. 🙂


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[Guest Post] Spirituality and Magic in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Gods and magic in SFF. Come on and check out this cool guest post I composed. Cheers. 🙂

Richie Billing

I’m delighted to introduce Ed White, writer of creative and visionary fiction, who’s contributing to the blog this week with an insightful post on a significant subject in SFF: spirituality and religion. Enjoy!


The Gods and Goddesses of myth, legend and fairy tale represent archetypes, real potencies and potentialities deep within the psyche, which, when allowed to flower permit us to be more fully human.

Margot Adler

In the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, gods are a curious breed. They represent something abstract—an idea or avatar beyond the reaches of mortal minds. This disconnect from the divine serves as a source of intrigue for the reader, and a subtle impetus for protagonists as they strive towards what no mortal has ever achieved.

Religion also plays a significant role in real-life. Gods and goddesses exist in every culture and region of the world, and there are hundreds of them. The power of…

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Writing tips #3: World building and map making

This thread is an experimental series, an accumulation of pointers and ideas from the perspective of an amateur writer. Naturally, take them as you will, but I’ve found them to work well for me. If anything, they serve as a public listing of thoughts and techniques. This section focuses on world building, mainly creating geography.


Not every fiction has a cartographic reference, nor is it a requirement for good work. However, it dramatically compliments the space where the story takes place. When done correctly, it provides several helpful benefits to both author and reader. Writers can reference it to plan out and keep track of how the story unfolds throughout their chosen world. It can also be a source of inspiration for new plot elements. For readers, it gives an extra dimension to visualize the motion of the story.

There are benefits to having a map in your story, whether it be a fantasy world,  a solar system, or even a fictional borough in New York City. Still, as a geographic and geologic major myself, I can safely say that it is a little more complicated than it seems, fiction or not. Here are some pointers to get you started:

  1. Readability – Above all else, ensure the cartographic diagram is clear and concise. This may sound like common sense, but choose a font that is not only fitting for your genre but also easy to read. This creates an added depth of immersion while giving both author and reader easy comprehension of the captions displayed. For example, on a fantasy map, try a more cursive font; for science fiction, go for something more digital-looking. If it’s a professional map for non-fiction, something simple and easily deciphered.
  2. Spatial balance – Leaving vast regions of empty or pointless spots takes away from the map’s impact, since every feature should have a purpose. If it doesn’t, you should probably remove it. One might argue that it adds additional depth to the product. Sometimes, when done correctly, this can be true. However, simplicity is also essential, and redundancy never bears good fruit. Be sure to balance out the extremes of detail and simplicity; equilibrium is a map’s best friend.
  3. Foundations – Your map is your custom creation so you can design it however you wish. There are specific guidelines to follow, although, they may seem like common sense again. For example, if its fantasy map, include symbols for towns, cities, roads, mountains, and so forth. Also try to include any custom symbols, which add flavor and uniqueness to your diagram. Trace out how your characters move around the world as you review your plot in your head. You may find yourself with new methods to fortify the plot’s progression. For professional maps, ask yourself if a landmark interacts with pertinent data; how does it play into the final report the map delivers? In a sense, both fictional and non-fictional diagrams are similar in that they both dictate a story.
  4. Legend – A map usually includes a small menu dedicated to unique symbols on the map and what they mean. This is an efficient way to customize your diagram while keeping the reader adequately informed. In addition to a menu for symbols, a north arrow and (if you want to go this far) distance bar adds even more information. Lastly, you can also include who it was created by and when, although this step is more for professional maps or archiving rather than fiction.
  5. Color – Certain maps do fine without color, but if you feel like going this extra step,  added hues only strengthen the product further. Stick with a small to moderate sized array of colors, to not overwhelm a reader when they first gaze upon it. You can use different shades of the same color.  The lineup I usually go with is:
    Green – grasslands/forests
    Brown – mountains/hills
    Blue – rivers/lakes/oceans
    Yellow – desert/wasteland
    Grey – city/town/ruins
    Black(speckled) – outer space
    Lastly, remember that when it comes to maps, anything is possible. These rules are not meant to be rigidly followed, but to act more as a guideline. In fact, bending them may lead to unusually positive results. Good luck mapping pioneers!