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Making Good Protagonists
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Making Good Protagonists:

So my series is has a large cast of characters, but two of them are the first that are introduced and can be considered as the 'protagonists.' They aren't nearly as interesting or complex as the other characters (mainly because there hasn't been as much work done with them as the other characters) Ordinarily I'd be somewhat okay with a mild case of Designated Protagonist Syndrome, but much of the exposition and begining of the first part is told from their point of view. Because I don't want the readers to be bored out of their minds and stop reading, I'd appreciate a few tips for this. Some other things to consider
  • They're two 'everyman' type characters, who become Arthur Dents as the story goes on
The only problem is, I can't seem to develop them past personalities like "loyal, compasionate, etc." and when I try to draw upon my own experiences, I'm afraid they turn out too Self Insert / Mary Sue -like.

  • TL;DR Version: Any tips on giving my bland protagonists flaws, but still having them be likable?

edited 25th Jan '13 1:31:48 PM by TheMuse

So, are they only the main characters for the beginning part? In any case, I'd say give them a sense of humor. Comedy is a good way to get people to like a character and want to get to know them.

I can't really give you any advice on "what flaws to give your characters" without knowing the story.

Also, keep in mind that "flaws" aren't the only thing that can make a character interesting. Motivation is the really key to a good character. If the audience can understand, relate to and/or get behind what motivates the character, then they'll probably like them. This can also help you develop flaws. Like if a character's motivation is to prove themselves in some way, their flaw can be based on poor self-esteem/sense of self-worth or ambition.
 
...can still bite
[up][up] Exactly how are they Arthur Dent? What sort of situation do they find themselves in?

Well they have pretty big roles throughout the story, but the story only EXCLUSIVELY follows them mostly in the first part.
  • And the way they are Arthur Dent s is that they're two pretty average people (one of them is a seamstress from the working class, the other, a wealthy son of a trader) who have to leave their homes when they become part of a magical war and must befriend a variety of people.

...can still bite
[up] OK, that helps a bit. Do they know anything about magic? Do they get to learn magic? Also, if the protagonists are average, what makes their companions not average?

Before they get 'pulled along into the adventure' they don't know about magic and although they learn things from their new companions, they don't 'learn magic.' And with their companions, there's the fact that most of them have been fighting a magical war for over a decade, many of them have magical powers, one of them can read minds, etc.
  • So how can I keep the readers entertained by the protagonists until all of the 'cool stuff' shows up?

...can still bite
Why are they the protagonists, then? Are they Decoy Protagonists, or are they in a Hobbit-like scenario where larger than life events are told through the eyes of mundane characters?

If you remove both characters, would it have any impact on the outcome of the magic war?

edited 27th Jan '13 3:05:32 PM by shiro_okami

Yeah, it's kind of more of a Hobbit-type thing. Introducing our two protagonists and setting, stuff happens, the Call to Adventure, they are featured a little less in the story. They aren't 'chosen ones' or anything, but a few of the other 'Muggles' that come with them have a good amount of influence on the plot, some of them are featured heavily at points. They don't have an enormous effect on the war itself, but one of them persuades one of the bad guys to pull a Heel-Face Turn.

...can still bite
OK, I think I can work with this.

My first piece of advice for having characters like that is to have the heroes' success depend on their actions. It doesn't necessarily have to mean that they influence the conflict directly, though; their actions just might cause a chain reaction that ends to the defeat of the Big Bad. However, I think it would be a good idea to make at least one character's actions deliberately against the Big Bad instead of a clueless Spanner in the Works Pinball Protagonist. If you can remove the protagonist and still keep the plot mostly intact, the character should not be the protagonist.

Now for personality. For the wealthy trader's son, you could go for either spoiled or competent with good business sense, or perhaps a mix of both. For the seamstress, you could make her hard-working and have her enjoy her new role in the plot because she's finally broken free from her social class.

What is their background and ages? By establishing that, you can decipher what their personality is. Give them mini-conflicts before the main conflict shows up. Maybe the trader's son is going through an Arranged Marriage despite being in love with the poor seamstress, or is doing a shady arms deal that ends up tying into the magic war plot. Also, when the main conflict shows up, make sure that at least one character is interested in and inquisitive about what's going on, so they don't end up as complete idiots (unless the character is young and naive or meant to be Comic Relief).

edited 28th Jan '13 12:55:12 PM by shiro_okami

They're both in late-teens - 18. The trader's son has his own slight conflict in the begining when his family wants to marry him off against his wishes and also a slight underlying one throughout his arc that involves making his family proud. Later in the story, (post-magical shit) they end up falling in love which involves some conflict (which conviniently could make them more relevant at that point)
  • You're saying the characters should do some active 'exploring' of the their own, correct? Not just be passive observers of their new surroundings?

...can still bite
Wait, so you mean I actually guessed what the story was before you actually told me?

Anyway, yes, they should not be passive observers, at least not all the way through. If you think back to the Hobbits, they weren't magical, were too weak to really be warriors, and didn't really understand all that was going on. But without Merry and Pippin, the Ents might not have entered the war, the Rohan-Isengard war might have taken longer, and Rohan would not have relieved the siege of Minas Tirith in time, not to mention that Faramir would have definitely died and the Witch-King might have survived. Their contribution to the plot may seem small in comparison to other characters, but removing them creates a Butterfly of Doom scenario. Not to mention that Frodo and Sam ARE the plot, and the actions of the other characters would have amounted to a hill of beans if they failed. None of the hobbits were passive characters; each one does something to earn their role in the story.

You can either have them split from the other characters and literally explore on their own, or simply actively aid the heroes as best they can. They can end up directly affecting the plot or subtly initiate a chain reaction of events that have a large consequence.

edited 28th Jan '13 7:15:58 PM by shiro_okami

Re. flaws, a very helpful technique is to make their good points be also their Achilles' Heels. A perfectionist may produce fantastic work, but he may never finish it; he might never even start. Someone who can adapt to anything may be unable to hold down a job. A loyal friend might be loath to accepting anyone else, or may break all ties with someone after only a small betrayal.

Try giving your characters unusual habits or preferences. She puts sugar in her curry. He has an unnatural fear of hedgehogs. Before going to sleep she hides her shoes in the coal scuttle. He always stands when in a cart. She can't bear people who smile upside down. Don't worry over what sort of quirks you give them - jab a blind finger at a dictionary if you wish - because they're just props to help the personality appear. You can even get rid of them later if they no longer fit.
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Total posts: 12
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