Read the previous post: How to Create a Vile Villain
I want to give you a perspective on the protagonist, and what makes a memorable main character for the bad guy to face. I will say that this is probably one of the broadest subjects in all of fiction writing, because the main character can take on so many forms and go on so many journeys, whereas the villain usually has a straightforward goal.
(Please excuse the gender bias...I just don't feel like typing "him/her" or "s/he" all the time)
Tip #1: SEND HIM ON A JOURNEY TO OBTAIN A DESIRED GOAL
This is the same concept as Tip #1 in my post, 6 Tips to Hook Your Reader in the First Chapter. The main character in every work of fiction, whether it be fantasy, science-fiction, horror, mystery, romance, literary...whatever, needs a goal important enough to force him to go out and find some way to obtain his desire.
This could be finding treasure, discovering a country, killing a king, or even defeating an army. There are hundreds of adventures. Choose one you love, and make your main character need it so much that he will go mad if he doesn't reach it. This drives the story, creates tension, and generates interest.
The reader will ask: "How will he defeat the dragon that terrorizes the kingdom?" The only way to find out is to read on.
Tip #2: MAKE HIM ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO THE PLOT
Make your MC someone who sticks out of a crowd. Someone readers want to read about and discover the life of. Nobody would have read Harry Potter if Seamus Finnigan was the main character. We would miss the whole point of the story! We wouldn't know what happened between Harry and Quirrell would be a complete secret....actually no, because, naturally, the whole school knows!
Okay, bad example.
But you see what I mean? We wouldn't see the action. There would be no love story with Harry and Cho and Ginny, or Ron and Hermione. We wouldn't see the Polyjuice Potion, or the Chamber of Secrets, or the Triwizard Tournament, or the cave and the fake Horcrux. So much of the story would be missing, and we would only see the parts that Seamus witnessed.
So make the main character someone that compelling, interesting things happen to.
Tip #3. MAKE THE READER CARE ABOUT HIM
Remember this above all else: Emotion is the strongest offensive move you can make when writing a story. Love, anger, sadness, anxiety, butterflies in the stomach, ALL THAT. If you write with emotion, your reader will feel it (hopefully, at least). Let's say they do. That means you did something right. You are giving the reader an experience.
Make the reader care. Create sympathy for him. Or make him do something cool that readers like! Give readers a reason to want to know more about the main character.
Tip #4. DEVELOP A BACKSTORY FOR YOUR MAIN CHARACTER
You didn't just pop into this world. Events lined up so that you were born. Your parents met somehow. They had you, raised you, and created experiences for you. Then you ventured out into the world and had your own experiences.
Everything you are today is based off a series of events (sometimes unfortunate) and choices (if you believe in free will, of course). We all have a history, so give your main character a history. Make it compelling. Make it relevant. Show that your character was forced to become who he is today, and there is no one else he could be. I mean, you're creating a whole story, might as well deepen it while you have the chance.
|Speaking of unfortunate...|
Tip #5. MAKE HIM BELIEVABLE. GIVE HIM FLAWS
Flat characters aren't fun (unless his name is Flat Stanley, of course). Develop him as a real person. Give him real quirks. Reasons he would bug you in real life. What's that pestering thing he does? What beliefs of his challenge your own beliefs? Give him those beliefs. Make him biased. Make him arrogant when it comes to a sport he's good at, or how he might feel "above" someone.
Come on, there's something in all of us that we can admit to. USE IT. Develop it. Make him react based on his beliefs, when one of the other characters might have done something completely different. Make a flawed character, because NOBODY IS PERFECT.
Tip #6. GIVE HIM FRIENDS AND COWORKERS AND A SOCIETY WITH WHICH TO INTERACT
Show readers how your main character perceives the world. Show readers how he talks to people.
Does he have a lot of friends, or a close knit group, or any friends at all? Is he shy and looks away or down while talking, or does he hold a firm stare? Does he stand tall, or slouch whenever he has to be around strangers? Does he help someone in need on the street, or does he walk by without a second glance? Does he appreciate his friends, or does he patronize them? Does he take charge, or does he follow? Does he like large groups, or prefer the quietness at home?
This is all about deepening the MC, because the more readers know, the more interested they become, and the more they can relate.
Tip #7. GIVE HIM A SET OF VALUES...TO BREAK
Your main character needs to live his life a certain way. He doesn't go around wreaking havoc one day, and saving the world the next. People are consistent. People are decent (mostly). A majority of the population doesn't go around acting completely bipolar. We have schedules. We have morals and values and stick with them. We form decisions around them.
So should your main character.
As quickly as you can, show what a normal day for your MC is, so the reader can tell whenever he does something against those morals and values. Because in every journey, things won't always go your MC's way, and he'll have to break some of his rules to continue forward. Interesting…
Tip #8. GIVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER A UNIQUE TRAIT
This is important. You've created a believable character. We've seen all his flaws and interests, and know what family life is like. But something is still missing. A REASON HE IS THE HERO.
Your main character must possess something that no other character in the entire story does. That can be magic powers, or a special gun, or a special set of skills, or knowledge that only he knows. Something. Anything. GIVE IT TO HIM. Your main character shouldn't share this. And he has it because it is essential to the plot and will help him defeat the villain’s fatal flaw (see How to Create a Vile Villain Tip #7).
The same holds true for the main character. Your protagonist and antagonist will confront each other in some sort of final battle, and this is when both of their unique traits will be most important to the story, whether these be flaws or advantages.
Be creative when expressing it. And remember, keep it logical. Readers hate coincidences (aka deus ex machina).
The main character of any story should fascinate us. We should love him. We should know everything about him and feel like he is a long-lost friend. He should be compelling, at the center of attention, and be flawed.
Flat characters who are perfect in every way are BORING. We read books to be interested and love what we read. Pull this off, and you'll see whole fan pages dedicated to your characters.
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