Tag Archives: protagonist

Making Sure Your Protagonist Beats Out Others

The protagonist is one of the most important attributes of a story. If someone doesn’t like your protagonist, for whatever reason, it’s highly unlikely that person will finish your story.

We all can probably conjure up a few short stories or novels we haven’t finished because of our dislike for a protagonist. The most immediate one that comes to my mind is from a young adult science fiction novel, where the protagonist consistently made the opposite of intelligent decisions and yet somehow survived and was lauded as a hero. It didn’t matter how many times other people were injured, captured, or died because of the protagonist’s terrible decision making skills, or how many times the protagonist had to be saved by others, the protagonist was still considered this fabulous, fantastic person, instead of the fool.

Other times, while the plot and backstory may have holes in it, the story can be immensely enjoyable because of the protagonist. One book I read was a young adult dystopian novel where the backstory was horrendous. There were too many inconsistencies to count, however I liked the book because of the protagonist. I found the protagonist funny and relatable. I couldn’t put the book down.

So, how do you create a protagonist that isn’t a flat cliché or someone that people would like to shove off a cliff?

One way is to make sure that the protagonist is integral to the story. That sounds obvious, right? But many times I’ve seen the protagonist being dragged by the story, instead of forging it ahead. While having a reluctant protagonist is one thing, the protagonist must have something else that makes him stand out from all the other potential protagonists for your story.

There’s a reason the protagonist is the protagonist. The story is best told from his point of view. In fact, the story couldn’t be told from any other person’s point of view without diminishing the story in some way. A few years ago, I read a book where one of the secondary characters stole the spotlight from the protagonist. I didn’t care about the protagonist; I wanted to know what was happening to that secondary character. The author might have been better suited using that secondary character as the protagonist.

Another way is to have the protagonist be more than the standard hero-type. When the protagonist takes on the role of hero and goes on a quest to fulfill his hero nature, the writing can turn shallow. It’s fine for a character to be the hero. The vast majority of protagonists end up saving someone or something. However, by avoiding using terms like “hero” and “quest,” you give yourself room to explore your protagonist more in-depth. There’s always more to a character, and every hero is not perfect. People have flaws, goals, dreams, problems…they’re a mixture of virtuous and selfish and driven and condescending and a whole bunch of other stuff that makes them this extraordinary puzzle to piece together.

5585579519_901344576d_o

Have you ever heard a person in real life state that they’re going on a quest? I’m not talking about children playing make-believe. I’m talking about individuals that are firmly grounded in reality.

It’s rare to hear someone declare they’re going on a quest or that they’re going to be the hero. Most often, people become heroes because a situation demands it. There’s a quote from the TV series Lost Girl. It’s when Kenzi is talking about her personality. She states, “General cowardice with moments of crazy bravery.” This quote holds a lot of meaning because Kenzi sacrifices herself for Bo, the series’ protagonist, on multiple occasions. Kenzi is an incredibly caring and giving individual, but she’s also sarcastic, dramatic, a bit selfish, and a thief. She’s complex, and in the end, she’s also a hero. One that people can relate to.

Having a phenomenal protagonist means delving into the core of human emotion. It doesn’t matter if your story is based in the ABC Galaxy that was discovered in 2206 and was colonized in 2447, and you’re protagonist is a dog-bee-human hybrid. Human emotion and strife and success is essential to a protagonist. The common ground that readers and fictional characters connect on is what makes readers respond to characters.

(Photo courtesy of Courtney Wright.)

Antagonists: Protagonists from a Different View

 

7946471722_1c2a96314c_z

Antagonists. They’re usually not likeable. In fact, in most novels they’re hated by both characters and readers. But antagonists play a central part in fiction. Without them, there’d be no story.

An antagonist is the person who opposes the protagonist, the hero of the story. They’re the villain. The anti-hero. The bad guy.

The antagonist provides conflict.

More importantly, antagonists are the characters that keep people reading. If an antagonist isn’t well written or clear, then the stakes – the tension – isn’t defined.

You might say, “Well, wait a second. I care about what happens to the hero, not the villain.”

Great! However, if there was no threat to the hero, then how would you feel? You care about the protagonist because he is being threatened in some way, and thus has obstacles he must overcome to survive.

So, how do you go about writing a phenomenal antagonist?

For starters, remember that antagonists are real people. They’ve got a backstory, desires, ambitions, etc. They’re not just plot devices. In other words, character drives plot. The antagonist influences the actions and events within a story based on what he wants, and what he wants is the opposite of what the protagonist wants.

Another way to look at antagonists is to see the world through their eyes. To the outside observer, the antagonist is the bad guy, but to the antagonist he’s the good guy, while the protagonist is the antagonist. Crazy, right?

By looking at the world through the antagonist’s viewpoint, you can better grasp the antagonist as a person. The antagonist will become more of a rounded character, instead of a flat character used solely to move the plot along.

What’s fantastic about round characters is that they often fall into the gray zone located between the black and white poles you see in comic books and cartoons, or really any superhero movie.

The gray zone is a lot more interesting than black and white.

Think about some of your favorite antagonists. Darth Vader? Hannibal Lecter? Voldemort? Iago? Long John Silver? Norman Bates? Count Dracula? Annie Wilkes? Humbert Humbert? Nurse Ratched? Others?

Why do they stand out above the rest?

If nothing else, it’s because they make you feel strong emotions. You probably love hating them, or you hate that you love them. Maybe it’s a bit of both. (There are some novels I finished solely because I loved the antagonist, and though I couldn’t stand that I was more interested in the antagonist than the protagonist – guilty conscience for rooting for the bad guy – I was conflicted about seeing the antagonist lose in the end. I didn’t want to see the antagonist go because I wanted more.)

The antagonist doesn’t have to be a character. An idea, like racism, a natural disaster, like a hurricane or disease, an organization, like the NSA or some private bioengineering firm, can all act as antagonists. Think about slavery. That is a huge antagonist.

Bottom line: spend time on developing your antagonist. They’re vital to the story, and when something is a critical component, it can make or break a novel.

Got any antagonists you found yourself rooting for?

(Photo courtesy of Cynthia.)

That Critical First Page: Grabbing Readers Attention in Seconds

The first page, whether it’s a novel, short story, research paper, proposal, etc., is extremely important, if not the most important page in a piece of writing. The first page paves the way for all the other pages. It’s what grabs readers’ attention, or turns them off.

The first page sets the stakes, tone, pace, voice, and setting. It lays out the mood for the entire piece of writing. If you’re writing about a world that has magic, the first page will have magical elements to it.

Similar to how agents spend about three seconds reading a query letter, readers spend seconds on the first page. If the story hasn’t grasped their attention by the end of page one, they’re unlikely to keep reading.

The first page should:

  • Set up point of view. Is this first person, third person, second person? Is there one point of view, two, three, more? (If you are writing a multiple point of view story, it’s usually better to write in third person.) Is the point of view more limited or omniscient?
  • Article Lead - wide62398472115ew6image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.115eyw.png1413437505967.jpg-620x349Show setting. A story begins where and when it does for a specific reason. If the opening page shows your protagonist standing, staring out the fourth floor window of a hospital, while it’s raining and the entire world seems a wash of gray, why is she there?
  • Give conflict. This is what’s at stake for the main character. Without conflict there is no story.
  • Establish the protagonist. Is the protagonist female or male? How old is the protagonist? What’s her name? Age? Why is she the protagonist? You don’t have to get into the specifics of what the protagonist looks like on the first page, but readers should know what the protagonist looks like very early on.
  • Present the tone. Is it unhappy, comical, sassy, peaceful, depressing, angry, or hopeful? There can be layers of tone within a story, especially in novels, but the overall tone remains consistent.
  • pacing trIntroduce pace. Pace is the speed at which a story occurs. Look at detective novels, events in that type of book moves quickly. However, in historical fiction, the pace is generally slower. In Young Adult literature, the pace tends to be fast, while in adult works the pace can be a little more unhurried. Does the novel jump straight into action and drama or does it meander there?

Since the first page is so crucial, it won’t be perfect the first time through. In fact, writing the best first page possible probably won’t happen until you know the entire story. So much of making a story suspenseful and surprising is hinting at what’s to come. Sometimes the foreshadowing is obvious, while other times it’s very subtle, but it’s there. And the only true way to hint at what’s to come is to know the entire story, and the better you know your story, the clearer picture you have of all those elements the first page should contain.

How do you go about writing first pages?

(Photos courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald and Fiction University.)