Thursday, February 17, 2011

Building Our Protagonist

La Vénitienne--Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo --1480 - 1548It seems like I’ve unintentionally set up this past week as Protagonist Week. :) Can you tell I’ve been working on a new protagonist for the new series?

I’m also reading, at the same time, Stephen King’s excellent book, On Writing. I was startled to read, though, that he never felt any real sense of liking for Carrie White, the protagonist in his first novel, Carrie. He says:

Carrie White seemed thick and passive, a ready-made victim.

I’ve written protagonists that can be difficult (my Myrtle Clover character comes to mind.) But I’ve always liked them. They’re always people that I would want to spend time with. I think it would be tough to write a book when you’re not wild about the protagonist. In fact, it was apparently tough for King, too—he ended up throwing an early draft of the manuscript into the trash, until his wife fished it out.

For me to be able to work with a protagonist over the course of a series, there are definitely some traits I’d like them to have:

Humor: When someone lacks a sense of humor, they’re frequently taking themselves too seriously.

Looks and Means: Average or pleasant looking and living fairly comfortably.

Flaws: I’m a fan of flaws and I’ve mentioned writing my own into my poor protagonist.

Proactive Nature: They attack problems instead of watching to see if someone else will leap into action.

Intelligence or Cunning: If they’re not geniuses, it’s okay—but I do like a clever mind or simple common sense. Or a canny way of looking at problems.

Decisiveness: I don't like a lot of wishy-washy scenes where protagonists wonder what they should do next.

Dynamic Personalities: The characters grow over the course of the book or series.

One thing that’s important to me is knowing what motivates them. I want to have some sort of idea of what makes the protagonist tick. Otherwise, I won’t really get them and know how they’ll react in different situations.

If you’re in the protagonist building phase right now, yourself, here are some links that I’ve found useful in the past:

Alexandra Sokoloff: Creating character - the protagonist Adventures in Children’s Publishing: Character Worksheet Eclectics: Fiction Writer’s Character Chart The Writer’s Knowledge Base (and click on ‘character’) There Are No Rules: Your Protagonist Must Have a Goal Guide to Literary Agents: Agent Donald Maass On: Your Tools for Character Building

What are traits that you find easy to work with in your protagonist? (I think many writers would be looking for different traits…and desirable traits might differ from genre to genre.)