Louise Titchener's Blog
The Perfect Protagonist
Well, there’s no such thing and there shouldn’t be. A protagonist should always be imperfect. Here’s why I think that’s true.
Perfection is fine in a saint. But most people aren’t saints and don’t want to read about them. They want heroes and heroines they can relate to, identify with, worry about, root for. That doesn’t mean your protagonist must be irredeemably inadequate. In fact, I think a good protagonist needs a special skill. My most recent hero is a sharpshooter.
I believe most readers don’t engage with truly weak or evil main characters. They want something to admire as well as something to worry about. There are exceptions. I saw only the first season of Dexter, but I thought the character walked a fine line. I know some writers have managed to get away with serial killer protagonists. That ain’t easy. Like Goldilocks porridge, a novelist’s “perfect protagonist” must have been cooked up using just the right recipe of strengths and weaknesses.
Plotting a novel can be a torturous process, but it can also be a lot of fun. I usually start by thinking about my protagonist, and find the exercise endlessly entertaining. I am currently writing historical mysteries. If I start a new novel I’m hoping it may turn into a series. That means I’m going to be living with the protagonist I create for quite a long time. I need to like my fictional significant other. I need to find him or her so fascinating that I will enjoy spending years with him or her. I need to believe that my readers will feel the same.
Of course, similar to other relationships, you only get to know your protagonist really well by writing about him or her. But it’s wise to know this person as well as you can before starting an intimate association.
I've been writing novels and teaching about writing novels for many years. It's true that some people write well from the beginning of their careers. It's also true that writing is a craft you get better at over time. I hope to describe some of what I've learned about the craft in my blogs. Please join me.