In my mind naive protagonists, are one of the most common types of protagonist. A character who is really genuinely naïve of the world and the events that are happening to them, because nothing in their life has ever prepared them for it. This is a quality that generally doesn’t last for very long as a character develops; in my mind only child characters who still have never-ending childish optimism can remain naïve.
Generally speaking a naïve protagonist is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up caught up in the plot. They have no idea what’s really going on or why. They have to learn as the story develops and changes them. A couple of good examples include Anakin Skywalker in ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’, and both Pippin and Merry in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
However, you do have to be incredibly careful with naive protagonist that you do not make them over simplified, especially at the beginning of the story. They might be naive of the bigger story that is happening, but they won’t be naive of the world around them that they do understand. Taking another example from Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is generally quite naive about the event of the rebellion, the force and how to watch one’s back in a rough bar. He does however know how to do his chores on the moisture farm, how to build and repair machinery and he has friends beyond his aunt and uncle. He is a fully formed three dimensional character, even if his naivety about the wider world hasn’t prepared him for the situation that he has found himself in.
The other thing that you have to careful about when you start a story with a naive protagonist is to not to use them as a character that is there simply to act as a member of the audience to ask questions and have things explained to them by more experienced characters. They have to also be there for an actual purpose as well. Harry Potter for example in the first book is what I would describe as a naive character; he literally knows nothing about the wizarding world. Hagrid and Ron do answer his questions about the wizarding world, but a lot of them time the explanation about the world Harry and the audience are unfamiliar with come from J.K. Rowling showing the magic of the new world Harry has found himself, via Harry’s observations, rather than via endless questioning.
My last point on naive protagonists is that they do not stay naive. Using Harry Potter as an example again, by the Deathly Hallows he might still be uncertain about some aspects of the wizarding world, but he is certainly not a beginner. He has developed as a character. However, you do not need to begin with with a naive characters, you can start with other tpyes of characters as well, which as my other posts will elaborate on, include damaged, reluctant and hopeful.