Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Five Most Important Things Your Protagonist Must Have

The art of crafting the perfect character is as individual to your genre, plot, and setting, as you are. A drama/action story has a different hero than a sci-fi/fantasy. What the protagonist looks like, his/her personality, the backstory, even the species if your talking about fantasy. So how can a single formula craft a perfect protagonist? How can his or her attributes be narrowed down to five simple things?
Like so:
The five most important things your protagonist must have don't include things like appearance, setting, or species. The reader must find themselves in the hero role. They must imagine their own looks, setting, and frame of being in the character as they read. The five most important aspects of your hero must include the things your reader identifies in their own life.
#1. A wound- Life is hard, Ladies and Gentlemen, anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something. Your reader will always at least empathize, or sympathize with your MC (main character)'s wound. What when wrong? How were they hurt, physically/emotionally/both. Most wounds occur in adolescence, but they can be events that occurred over the life time of the character as well. i.e. abuse, neglect, speech impediment, handicap etc. this leads to...
#2. A belief- This is how the world works...all of the time! Now, its important to point out here that the belief your MC has is false. It is what they believe is true based on their wound, but it is never true all of the time, nor with every person. The MC 'believes it is, which brings on...
#3. A fear. FEAR- us the acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. In the MC's  logical mind they know every elevator, every time it runs does not plummet to the ground maiming the people inside. If that was their wound, or is based on their wound, it doesn't matter what logic says. Their false belief appears real when ever they ride the elevator. It is this juxtaposition between the fear and logic that sends our MC into...
#4. A need or a longing- This is where it gets tricky. Some MC's have an openly stated longing for which nothing is done to accomplish it. MC woke up and complains that life would be wonderful if they could live somewhere sunny. When they walk to their meaningless job, the sun shines and they complain about the heat. This is a stated longing, and a hidden need. Your MC may state a wish for excitement and romance but agree to tea with the stuffy, boring man to which her mother has forced her to be betrothed. An open longing, but no action on the part of the MC. The MC can have both hidden needs, and longings that only emerge later when we come to...
#5. Outward Conflict- Two of the hardest parts of a story to meld together are inward and outward conflict. Too much inward conflict creates heavy narrative and too much outward conflict creates poor character development. However, its the outward conflict that creates openings to include inner conflict. Outward conflict is physical movement your reader can see, hear, touch, smell. It drives the MC to action, pursuit of their need, an opportunity to overcome the fear and create a new belief system to heal their wound. Inner conflict is simply desire. It does not create, overcome, act or heal leaving the protagonist the same, or more pathetic by the end of the story. As your MC acts, the desire for change will develop the personality and connection for the reader, but desire alone. Is a 700 pound man,sitting on the couch,  wishing he was thinner while stuffing his face with candy bars and growing his fat into the cushions.

Now, remember...Often the wound does not occur in the body of your story, it is part of the back story leading to the MC's current state of mind. Sometimes it is stated by the MC  in dialogue, but in many stories the wound is never announced. Take "My best friend's Wedding". the only hint we have at her wound is a statement she makes about breaking up with her best friend six years earlier. She says "I got restless, (afraid), broke up and cried for like the third time in my life."
What happened to her that she only cried three times in 22 years? that's her wound.
In "Shrek", we see his "Keep out" signs and his act. "You better run, big scary ogre." His wound is the way people have treated him because he's an Ogre, although it's never said in so many words.
 Go read your favorite books or watch your favorite movies and see if you can find these attributes in the production. It will show you how to develop them in your novels. What ever your story, setting, characters or genre, your protagonist is the person your reader will connect with, become obsessed with and follow through the story. By Using the five most important attributes your hero must have to sculpt your work, You can write a story about anything.

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