What If I Don’t Like My Main Character?
Writing a likeable protagonist has plagued my writing on numerous occasions. I think I have the perfect situation and give the protagonist (usually female in my case) an ordinary world where something happens that turns said world on its ear. Decisions have to be made, new roads forged, and of course, there are obstacles a plenty. Then five to seven chapters into the writing I discover that I just really don’t like this person I’ve created. And chances are my readers won’t either (IF it even gets published).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste weeks, if not months, working on something that’s going into the recycle bin, so I’ve tried to be smarter about “creating” protagonists by asking these questions:
- Would I want to be friends with this person in real life?
- What is there about this character that readers (or you, the writer) will identify with?
- Is there something intriguing about her? An unusual hobby or a quirk that is endearing? A physical quality that might stand out (a disability or extreme beauty or something as simple as being too tall or too short)?
- Does she have an interesting job? If not, what unique perspective does she bring to her work?
- Is she outgoing? If she’s an extrovert, is she sincere in her relationships with others? If an introvert, can she carry on an intelligent conversation and express herself with a small circle of friends?
- What are her core beliefs? What qualities does she revere that reflect those beliefs? Honesty. Integrity. Work ethic. Modesty. Courage. Following through on promises. Loyalty. Determination. Peacemaker.
- Is she an optimist or a pessimist?
- How does she react under stress? Is she prone to being snarky or throwing tantrums or does she draw on inner strengths to handle stressful situations?
- What kind of sense of humor does she have? Can she laugh at herself in a self-deprecating way that is healthy? When sarcastic thoughts come, does she brush them off or act on them?
- How does she treat others – both in the workplace and at home? (Core beliefs)
- Is she judgmental? Can she look beyond the present circumstances and see both sides to the situation?
- Does she stand up for what’s right even when it comes with a cost (loss of friends or income or social standing)?
- How does she handle criticism? Can she listen to instruction from others and weigh the facts before jumping to conclusions?
- When she makes a mistake, how does she react? Is your character prideful or humble? No whining or pity parties allowed!
- Would this character be an interesting guest at your next dinner party?
Crafting a protagonist who the reader will root for must appear from the outset to be worthy of spending 300-350 pages with. Yes, she can be damaged or hurt, and indeed should be, but the core beliefs and the way she responds to the obstacles hurled at her should at least be hinted at from the beginning. Reader empathy is top priority.
One thing to keep in mind is that no one is likely to root for a Pollyanna either, so once you have an idea of the endearing, strong qualities your protagonist has, you will want to give her some flaws. This will give texture to your story and aid in giving your character an inner journey and growth as a human being. And often, the very qualities that are likeable will be the ones that trip up your character.
Determination as an admirable quality could also lead to disregarding the feelings of others.
A person who can see the “big picture” and be objective with others might be critical with her own family.
An extrovert who collects friends like charms on a bracelet might find her loyalty to two friends in jeopardy if they are in conflict with one another.
These conflicting aspects add the tension that will keep the reader engaged in your story after you’ve hooked them. So give your protagonist strong core beliefs and make her someone you’d like to invite to your next gathering and your novel will be off to a solid start.
Carla Stewart’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by. A child of the fifties and sixties, she recalls it as a glorious time when the summers were lazy, colors were brighter, and music filled her heart. Carla’s desire is to take readers back to the times when they knew they were loved, to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.”
Her award-winning novels include Chasing Lilacs and Broken Wings. Stardust is her newest release. She loves readers and participating in book club discussions. You can learn more about Carla and ways to connect with her at www.carlastewart.com.
Follow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/#!/ChasingLilacs
In the bayou country of East Texas, the neon sign of the STARDUST stands silent, no longer beckoning visitors to its cozy cottages. But two days after Georgia Peyton buries her unfaithful husband, a curious thing happens: the STARDUST sign sputters to life and winks at her. Sustained by a memory from the past and determined to build a new life, Georgia acquires the STARDUST with hopes of breathing new life into it too.
But the guests who arrive aren’t what Georgia expects: her gin-loving mother-in-law; her dead husband’s mistress; an attractive drifter who’s tired of the endless road; and an aging Vaudeville entertainer with a disturbing link to Georgia’s past. Dreams of a new life are crippled amid the havoc. Georgia’s only hope is that she can find the courage to forgive those who’ve betrayed her, the grace to shelter those who need her, and the moxie to face the future. One thing is certain: under the flickering neon of the STARDUST, none of their lives will ever be the same.