5 Ways to Flesh Out Your Protagonist

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Every good story needs a good protagonist. In fact, if you have a bad protagonist, do you still have a good story? Yeah, think about that question a bit.

The point is, you can ruin your story if you can’t give the readers a good guide through it. We need a friend to get through the worlds you create—someone to care about and want to watch. If you can’t give your readers the protagonist they need, they may find it difficult to care about what happens in the story you’re trying to tell them.

Here are some things to consider when fleshing out your protagonist:

A Reason to Root for Them

Readers need a reason to care about your protagonist—a reason to root for them. Or, if your protagonist is a real jerk, a reason to root against them.

It comes down to giving the readers a reason to care about the person they’re reading about. You can have the best storyline, but if your protagonist has no allure to them, you just wasted that story idea.

They Need a Goal

Your protagonist needs to want something. Even if you don’t make this ‘something’ apparent to your readers, you need to know what that is and have your protagonist act accordingly.

Whether it’s to save the world or to get a glass of water, your protagonist needs an endgame in order to drive the plot forward. Otherwise, the plot won’t need your protagonist around.

They Need a Problem

This is married to the last item—the goal. Maybe their goal is to fix their problem. Maybe their problem is just getting in the way of them achieving their goal. Maybe it’s themselves who are the problem! Woah!

If your protagonists achieves their goal with no hiccups, your story will feel boring to the reader. If that’s how life worked, we’d all be bored and boring.

They Need to Be Bad at Something

Making your protagonist a perfect person is a dangerous thing to do. We, the people, like to read about people, and people aren’t perfect. Art imitates life. Plus, what you think makes a person perfect is not what your neighbor thinks does the same. Ayn Rand fans use the side door, please.

We all have faults and your protagonist should too. Give them the Achilles’ heel they need. I suggest using it against them later, because it will help them in the next suggestion on this list.

They Need to Evolve

While your protagonist travels through your story, they need to experience some sort of change. Whether it’s a growing experience, a gaining of wisdom, or their ultimate downfall, something needs to happen to them. The best stories are the ones where we changed as people because of what happened.

What’s more important than all these suggestions is that you make a protagonist that keeps you, the writer, interested. Because if you’re bored by your protagonist, your readers are doomed to the same fate. So flesh yours out in a way that would make you want to be around them, or at least watch them.

Practice, and never stop writing.

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

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