Friday, April 16, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Strong Protagonists Do Not Require Beefy Arms.

Can you be bushed when you’re human? I’m not a bush, so I don’t know what it feels like to be bushed, and I’m not a gardening expert either. Looks like another thing I’ll have to research. If only I had paid attention in Botany class, then I’d know for sure.

Anyway, this has been a busy week. Returning to work after a short vacation seems to have that effect, doesn’t it? No worries, though. I had my critique group today, and it was a blast. Greta feedback. Next week, the Storymakers Conference. I’ve been in need of motivation lately, and I’m about to get a heavy dose of it. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone there, and some old friends if they show up.

Enough of this, mister; get on with the advice!

Protagonists: Brains not brawn? Yes, no, maybe a balance of both? That’s really up to you and what your story’s about, but the real question is, how do you make a strong protagonist? The answer varies, but I’m about to tell you one that may seem contradictory for beginners. How do you create a strong protagonist? Make them weak! Or rather, give them weaknesses, at least at first. You’ll notice that most protagonists start off as normal people, even unpopular in the eyes of the characters around them. I loved the fact that Hiccup, the main character of How to Train Your Dragon is a scrawny tinker amidst a village full of strong, tough Vikings. He’s out of place, right? But that’s what makes him interesting, making him easier to be sympathetic towards. Generate traits for your protagonists that will cause readers to feel sympathetic towards them. Without that sympathy, readers won’t care about your protagonists, and for your sake, they will find the interacting characters interesting enough to keep reading.

There are a few protagonist types that I’ve developed as a guide for myself, kind of like my Antagonist list from a few weeks back. They are as follows . . .

Reluctant: This person is involved in a problem, but is reluctant to do anything about it. Stories that follow “the heroes journey” formula generally use reluctant heroes as their protagonists. Frodo, in Lord of the Rings, for example: he doesn’t want to go to Mordor, but he’s been tainted enough by the ring that it would be dangerous if he were to hand it off to someone else. Or, there may be something great about this character that he/she may not know, but is reluctant to harness or develop that greatest, but they must, if they are to overcome their antagonist.

Anti-hero: This person does not follow the rules, choosing the lesser of two evils in order to do something “for the greater good.” They hardly ever go out of their way to cause trouble, but if trouble finds him/her, they won’t sit and take it. They will also do whatever it takes to better a situation, even at the discomfort or death of an antagonist, for revenge or gain. Batman is an excellent anti-hero, as well as characters from the Marvel Universe and “outlaws/bounty hunters/spies.”

One of my favorite Anti-heroes comes from an Anime series, called Outlaw Star.

The Penitent: a tortured soul, this person has done something terrible in the past and is searching for redemption. Often this can be seen as a mentor character as well, and there are few stories out their with “Penitent” protagonists. A good friend of mine has one. Time will tell if he’ll finish it. The best example I can think of is Full Metal Alchemist, where the main protagonist’s goal is to do whatever to takes to figure out Human Transmutation to restore his brother’s body. (a cool story, but a little gruesome. Not for the kiddies)

In general, protagonists want to do what’s right. They either don’t know how or they don’t know how to go about it. That’s for you to decide. The most important thing to remember is what drives this character to act and do and speak? Develop their problems, their fears. Make them every bit as real to actual people instead of an impervious/indestructible Superman. Give protagonist problems, lots of them, sometimes with negative consequences for their good choices. Don’t make life easy for them. They have to grow. Pampering them won’t save the world.

While there’s a ton to say about this subject, I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve got protagonists to work with and they’re getting impatient waiting for me to help them resolve their problems. Have a great weekend, and don’t ever stop writing. Your protagonists are an extension of yourself and the avenue by which you will learn more about yourself and develop your own moral character. For example, look into your own weakness and create a protagonist with the same problems. Try to work out the problem in your prose. You will gain much insight about yourself that you never knew was there.

Thanks for Clicking in. Until next time, keep up the good work.

I’m David, and I could use a back rub.

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