In fiction, your main character or protagonist is the center hub, around which your story turns. Most of us have heard that this character must be likeable, but how does the writer accomplish this? With thanks to Ray Obstfeld, (Fiction First-Aid), I’m going to broaden this target–your protagonist must be at least one of the following : likeable, compelling or redeemable.
Let’s start today with likeable.
You might make your protagonist morally good, smart, brave or dedicated, yet the reader may not care about him or her. Why? Because as in politics, most of us prefer someone with charisma. We are reading to be entertained.
Writing Tip for Today: How can you make your protagonist more likeable? Here are three ways.
- Give the character a sense of humor. You will showcase your character’s sense of humor through dialogue and internal monologue (interior thoughts). A reader who is laughing probably will keep reading. Recently, two different student writers working on historical romances learned in group feedback that their heroines were a bit timid and seemed inactive or blah. Both writers did a fantastic job of “spunking up” their lead characters through the addition of dialogue and interior thoughts with attitude. The customs of the era prevented the characters from doing “spunky” things, but when their attitudes were pumped up through their comments and thoughts, we as readers suddenly cared about those characters.
- Give your character a seemingly impossible task. Improve your protagonist’s likeability by adding some type of competition, a deadline (time is running out) or making him face overwhelming odds (like David & Goliath).
- Give your character an emotional motive for his actions. This is the “emotional gut appeal” Donald Maass writes about in Writing the Breakout Novel. Some examples would be: justifiable revenge, attempted reconciliation after estrangement, a promise made to a dying loved one.
- Give your character intelligence that promises insight. Use internal monologue (thoughts) to develop this trait with the promise that the hope of a “wisdom” payoff is what keeps us reading.
- Tomorrow: Making Your Protagonist Compelling.