When I’m working on a protagonist, one of two things usually happens…the protagonist is just immediately known to me (this happens when I’ve got a composite image in my head based on several people I actually know), or else I go through and build up a protagonist based on traits I admire as a reader.
I’m definitely operating from the second method this time and building up a main character from scratch.
Different writers look for different traits for their protagonist. And, depending on the plot, some traits would be more useful than others. Are you writing a traditional romance? Need a warrior for an epic battle in a fantasy? Your protagonists may need to have radically different abilities and characteristics.
What I’m usually looking for is an ordinary person put into an extraordinary situation, but who is able to resolve the conflict by being proactive and clever.
I want someone who is interesting but ordinary. Intrinsically good, but flawed.
I want someone who has challenges and internal conflict.
I want someone who can be changed…and can grow.
The protagonist doesn’t have to be nice, but shouldn’t be mean.
I like a main character with a sense of humor and a sense of adventure.
I want someone who can help me propel my plot and not just react to things that happen.
So now we’ve got the traits I’m looking for. How else can I nail this imaginary person down?
I’ll spend a few minutes with a character questionnaire like this one, then I’ll write up a description and move on to the plotting.
How about you? What are you looking for in your current protagonist?