Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 2, 2014

Ten Tips to Juice Up Your Protagonist

Most writers know every story needs a protagonist with a problem, but your MC also needs to be interesting, compelling, and sympathetic to keep the readers wanting more. We want our characters to jump off the page and grab our readers by the throat. Plus, we want our readers to remember and think about our characters and our story long after they close our book.

Here are ten ways to make your protagonist do just that: 

 

1.  MC has a problem that needs to be solved

Make sure your protagonist is the one with the problem and no one else can solve this problem (or solve it as well as he or she can. The MC has to be central to the entire issue.

2.  MC has the ability to act

Don’t let your protagonists go around just reacting to things when they happen. Your MC should make things happen and move the story along through his or her choices and actions. A protagonist who knows what she wants and makes the story happen is a far more compelling character than one who sits around and waits for the story to happen. Make sure your protagonist is more than just someone in the middle of a mess.

If this is not happening in your book, you need to adjust your story in order to get your protagonist in a position where they can affect the change.

3.  MC needs reasons to act

You can always give your MC something to do, but they need to have good reasons for their actions or your story will start to stretch credibility as to why they would get involved in something that clearly don’t care about. If you want to have your protagonist risk their life or happiness, make sure it’s for a reason readers will understand. NOTE: This is where a critique group comes in handy.

4.  MC needs a compelling quality

Like I said in the beginning, we want to make our MC interesting. Maybe they’re funny, smart or twisted. Maybe your MC has an unusual talent, skill, or quirk. Whatever you choose, there needs to be a quality that makes a reader want to know more. Most times the thing that is compelling is also contradictory, making the reader want to know how these two things work together, thus hooking the reader.

5.  MC has something to lose

Just having a reason to act isn’t enough, so think about having your MC lose something that matters. This is a powerful motivating tool that will enable you to force your protagonist to do what he normally wouldn’t. You can have them take risks they would never take if there are consequences hanging over their head. This will make readers worry that your MC might suffer those consequences and lose what matters most to him.

6.  MC should have something to gain

An important aspect of the story’s stakes that’s sometimes forgotten or not thought through well enough is giving the MC something to gain. Readers want to see a protagonist rewarded for all their hard work and sacrifice, and a reason for your protagonist to keep going when everything says give up.

7.  Give Your MC the capacity to change

The soul of the story is character growth. It’s what turns it from a series of plot scenes to a tale worth writing. Giving your protagonist the ability to learn from his experiences and become a better (though not always) person will deepen your story. Your MC shouldn’t be the same person as they were when the story began.

8.  MC needs an interesting flaw

It is the flaws that make your MC interesting. Flaws let you show character growth and give your protagonist a way to improve themselves. Maybe your MC knows about this flaw and is actively trying to fix it, or perhaps he or she hasn’t a clue and change is being forced upon them. This flaw could be the very thing that allows your MC to survive and overcome the problems. Of course, it could also be the cause of the entire mess.

9.  MC has a secret

You don’t want your MC to be predictable – boring. A good way to keep your protagonist interesting is to have your MC hide something. Readers will wonder what that secret is and how it affects the story. Having your protagonist be a little cryptic, will keep your readers dying to find out.

10. MC needs someone or something interesting trying to stop him

Don’t forget that your protagonist needs an antagonist standing against him. The stronger the antagonist is that goes up against your MC, the more tension, suspense and victory you will provide for the reader. Give the reader a villain they will love to hate. The payoff will be keeping your readers turning the pages and reading into the wee hours of the morning.

Do you have another tips for juicing up your characters? We’d love to hear it.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Great tips! Thanks, Kathy

    • Barbara,

      Thanks! What is happening with you recently?

      Kathy

  2. Wow! Super helpful! Some of it is reminding me of info I already know but have been forgetting to do. And some is fresh to me. Now if I can only implement it into my work…hmmmmm

    • Susan,

      So true. We just need to remember to implement all of it. We probably should have a plan on how to implement and the list next to us as a reminder while we are writing the first draft.

      Kathy

  3. Hi Kathy!

    I catch up with you quite a bit, even if I don’t comment. But this time, I think I have something to add: Your MC has to have heart! A reader needs to connect with the protagonist’s heart–not only what drives the character but why. It’s probably very similar to your reason to act…but maybe it just adds that component of the reader cheering the MC on. The heart of the MC makes us want to root for him/her/it.

    • Cathy,

      Thanks for adding that. That is important. Love that you chimed in.

      Kathy

  4. I agree with Cathy…makes for a more likeable protagonist. I enjoyed this post!

  5. Terrific post, Kathy. I will be posting the link on my blog. Thanks for this.

  6. Thanks for asking, Kathy. Am working on a pb dummy and this list fits the type of pb I am writing and illustrating.


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