Monday, 17 December 2012

Creative Writing Tips: Protagonist

Applies to Fantasy, Sci-fi, and most fiction

Looking at:
Difference between protagonist and antagonist
Generic protagonists
Example and unique protagonists

   The protagonist is just as necessary as an antagonist. While the antagonist is the reason the plot happens, the protagonist is the reason there is hope that the evil will end and the plans will be interrupted.
   Personally I find that protagonists write themselves, and are frequently made up of the same stuff. Antagonists are the more interesting characters, at a glance. They're the ones making elaborate plans and causing trouble. They're ambitious and headstrong. But you don't usually spend much time with them. Protagonists become interesting because you get to know how they work a little better, so even if they are the generic farmboy who accidentally stumbled across some big secret, they will still be made of top class stuff - you just won't see it until you get to know them.

   I try not to plan my protagonists, personally. I find that if I do that, I rarely ever have a plot or a villain to go along with them. As I've mentioned before, creating plots can end up creating the villains at the same time, and vice versa. Creating a protagonist first usually just leaves me with a person standing on their own in a field looking about themselves with no clue what to do. It is for this reason that the protagonist comes much later in my planning, if I plan them all that much at all. Like I said, they have a tendancy to write themselves in my case, which means any plans I make will probably end up changing as I get to know them myself.

   But, don't be fooled. Just because someone is a protagonist, doesn't mean that they're a particularly good or nice person, and while protagonist generally refers to the main character, remember that sometimes there can be several individuals in a group with the protagonist, and a few of them might end up with an awful lot of face time. At the moment, I'm reading The Dreamers series by David and Leigh Eddings - there seems to be no certain main character. There are 4 gods with equal power and mindset, 4 Dreamers who are much the same, then a group of humans - natives and outlanders combined - who also get the same amount of attention.
   I would advise, if you're just beginning, to focus on only one protagonist. Trying to write a group if you're not experienced could lead to trouble and shallower characters. If one of them dies, the reaction from the reader won't be as strong as if the single main character themself were to die.

   A protagonist is generally the individual we will follow the most, the one we'll be rooting for when push comes to shove, and the one who will also likely be in the most danger. It is important for this character to be deep and interesting, but you also have to be able to relate, as a writer, to this individual yourself - unless you're experienced. That doesn't mean that you have to give them the same disabilities that you may have, or the same mindset, or the same problems, but you have to be able to enjoy writing them - you'll be writing them more than any other, most likely.

   I'll stop blathering for a moment and show you some pictures - the words are important too, though.

Top Protagonists (including main characters, and lesser individuals)

John Marston - Read Dead Redemption

John Marston is an interesting protagonist. This may not be a fantasy game, so to speak, but in the case of a protagonist, any fiction will suffice as examples. He was never a goody two-shoes, and even in this game he still isn't. We follow him through North America near the Mexico border in about...I don't know, 1917? I think the government has just rolled in. Either way, we're following him as he tracks down his old gang of outlaw buddies. The government has him in their service to wipe out his old group, and the only reason he goes along with it is because they'll kill his wife and son if he doesn't. Sure, in the game you have the choice of playing a miscreant and killing people and stealing things, but you're also able to do the right thing and save women from being abused and cut down thieves stealing from the innocent. None of that really matters, though; in this case what counts is purely the fact that he used to belong to a gang of outlaws, and has only joined the government because of blackmail. Not many protagonists think like him, or are ever in any kind of situation remotely similar.

Kurotsuchi Mayuri - Bleach

This might be an anime, but this individual is insane. He's on the protagonist's side, but he doesn't really see eye to eye with anyone around him, quite. He's the Captain of Squad 12, the Head of the Technology Bureu, and seems far more interested in dissecting his opponants than fighting them. He's mean to most people, when it comes down to it, and is quite self-centred, deciding not to get involved in some fights if there's little in it for him personally, and jealously guards his work and won't let even colleagues of equal Captain status near his work without a lot of trouble. Despite his difficulty to deal with, and his selfish attitude (and also the fact that the protagonists at the beginning of the series were his enemies), he is a protagonist, though of a lesser sort. But he is by far one of the most interesting. I'll tell you something, on a side note, that Bleach has got the widest range of different attitudes and personalities on one "side" than I have ever seen anywhere else in book, film, or game. And that's saying something. If ever you're stuck for inspiration, look there. Seriously.

Frodo Baggins - The Lord of The Rings

Here is a much simpler and more basic protagonist. An innocent individual who knew nothing of the world around him until he was thrust out into it with the biggest burden he could ever possibly carry. Both weak and strong - he did succumb to the powers of the ring, reminding us that he is only human...or, hobbit...but he also took a long while to do so. He did his job and destroyed his target, much as the others listed so far have, and also as you would have expected from him, as the lead protagonist. Despite having many others around him with a lot of face time, he is still undoubtedly the lead protagonist, due mainly to the fact that he carries the Ring - there's a lot going on beneath his exterior due to his exposure to it, and as the Ring is more or less a chunk of the main enemy, if not most of him, it also brings us as close as we can come to a protagonist-antagonist relationship.

   It's quite difficult to come up with many protagonists for this post without repeating myself. More often than not, they follow the same recipe of innocence, good morals, and a need for guidance. Personally I try not to write such people. At the very least, I try to keep away from the innocence of honest labour, as do my characters - I joke. I don't want to use farm boys who know nothing of life outside their walls. I like my characters to have some kind of knowledge - it means I have to think harder to create sticky situations, and it also, hopefully, means that those sticky situations are more original.

I don't own any of the pictures used in this post.
All pictures have been linked to the sources from
which I have found them, where possible. 


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