The Key to a Great Story – Developing Protagonists

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Hope and determination can be costly for your characters.

Now I have discussed the four types of protagonists that I have identified, there may be more, and I would love to hear people’s insights on protagonists in the comments.

However, while I have talked about naive, damaged, reluctant and hopeful/determined protagonists, it is not a giant leap for people to imagine that a protagonist can at any point be more than one of those. In fact to make a complex protagonists, I actually recommend that your protagonist does have qualities of more than one of the types I’ve discussed.

Eddard Stark in Games of Thrones is a very good example of a protagonist with many layers. He is reluctant, but it is not because he is naive or damaged, it is because he fully aware of how dangerous the world he lives in can be. However, in many ways when compared to other characters he is incredibly naive, and much of that comes from his determination to find out the truth about the death of his former mentor and friend.

As another example, in the books I am currently writing myself, one of my protagonists is a hopeful/determined character, who is damaged by the world he has to live in and in many ways at times is actually reluctant in many respects to act on his hope. The only type he isn’t is naive. The world has damaged him beyond naivety, but that damage has also made him determined that change is needed, but equally also reluctant to act because of the consequences.

The strongest aspect of my character at any given time is dependant on the plot developments, and how the actions of the world around him have either pushed him into acting, even if he wouldn’t have chosen to, or because other characters in the novel have persuaded him that while the consequences might be harsh,but that doing the right thing is the best course of action.

Now in my example, my character is all of those things at once, and you could certainly develop a character whose strongest aspect of their personality is dependant on the context. Equally though, you can also create a character that evolves as the plot develops around them and changes them as the story develops. A common change is by destroying a naive protagonist, who might also be a little bit reluctant to be involved, by damaging them but also making them determined to help more.

Luke Skywalker over the course of the original trilogy is a prime example of the character development i have just described. He is naive and a little reluctant, until the death of his family. Once Obi-Wan dies though, Luke is willing to give his life in order to destroy the Death Star. He’s still naive in Empire Strikes Back, but on learning the truth about his father, which undoubtedly is a damaging truth, he develops a great deal of hope that he can save him from the dark side.

A lot of this is dependant on the plot, which will be discussed in later posts, so having a multi-layered protagonist is something that you do need to bare in mind when it comes to the development of your protagonist.

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