Creating a Great Protagonist

In Uncategorized on January 14, 2011 at 10:10 am

Recently, on this site, Linda, in her article, Eating the Elephant, touched on some points on how to tackle writing – one piece at a time.  In that article, one of the keys that Michael Hauge stresses is to very quickly create, in our reader, identification with the hero or protagonist.  Linda further details some of his suggestions to do this.

1. Make the reader feel sympathy for the hero
2. Put the hero in jeopardy – make our reader worry about him or her
3. Make the hero likeable – even if the hero is not good, they must be someone the reader cares about
4. Make the hero funny, or
5. Make the hero powerful

 Another interesting take on creating a great protagonist, comes from Hal Croasmun of Screenwriting U, an excellent site that offers courses in screenwriting and all its associated skills.  Occasionally they will post free phone sessions detailing how to address and improve areas of your script, which of course can also be applied to your novel.  Yes, the sessions are to encourage you to sign up for a course, and you might want to. 

His suggestion – and I think it is a great one – make sure your protagonist is inherently dramatic.  Does the profile you have created for your character inherently bring drama to the scene?  Are they a naturally dramatic character who brings tension to every scene because of their characteristics?

He suggests the following advantages if you are able to create a naturally dramatic protagonist.

1       Inherently dramatic characters naturally create dramatic situations

2       Are more interesting

3       Engage the reader or audience

4       Are easier to write

5       Are more attractive to actors

As an aside, let’s face it, we all want our book to be made into a movie and it can’t hurt to have an outstanding protagonist.

A)  Give your character a trait that creates conflict, such a being constantly cynical or selfish.

B)  Give him a flaw.  Perhaps he is bitter about something that happened to him and it colours his response to everything, thus creating drama.

C)  Give him a serious dilemma or problem that will create the drama you are looking for.

D)  Give him a motive that might create dramatic subtext in your scenes.

For my next lead character I am still going to keep him likeable (gotta be likeable!)  but I am going to try Croasmun’s approach. 

I’ll let you know how it turns out. 


  1. Nice, informative piece on creating protagonists. I like the emphasis on drama.

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