If you're like me then you love writing! Whether it's a simple poem, a grandiose novel, or a post for Moviepilot, writing is your drug and like any addict, you can't get enough! If nothing else, I want people to convince people its cool to read and write the same way J.K. Rowling convinced me, the six year old who sat in the back of a minivan on a long road trip covered in Doritos crumbs with his eyes glued to the pages of Harry Potter. Maybe you like writing but you think "I'll never be good enough." I'm here to tell you STOP IT! It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. Writing should be fun! You're not writing for anyone else but yourself. Scribble out ideas, keep a journal, write about the dream you had last night, write about ANYTHING! The point is, it doesn't matter if it's good, bad, or ugly, because its just for fun. If you want to share what you write with the world then you will when you're ready!
Now let's have a little fun. There are so many great heroes in today's world and they all seem to have some things in common. So here's what I want you to do. Check out my list on what it takes to make a protagonist then go make one of your own! Follow the criteria and it should be pretty easy!
Step 1: Give your character a tragic back story
You have to create sympathy/empathy for characters if you want the reader to care about them. The easiest way to do this is with a tragic back story because it immediately attaches the reader to your character. If a reader is emotionally invested in your character then you already have the hook in the reader's lip and the next step is to reel 'em in with a great story! (Tip: It's best if you give your character a dead parent, or for best results two. Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, and the Baudelaire kids are all examples of protagonists who had at least one dead parent.)
Step 2: Make your character "special"
Your character has to have something that makes them the "chosen one," whether it be possessing the one ring to rule them all, having a scar on his forehead, being skilled with a bow and arrow, or being the last Jedi. Your character should be an average Joe who is thrust into action, that way the reader thinks, "Hey that could be me." (Tip: If you're having a little trouble coming up with what exactly makes your character special just use the old "prophecy" trick. Works every time!)
Step 3: Charismatic friends/ unbreakable friendships
What would Luke be without Han Solo, or Harry Potter without Ron and Hermione, or Katniss without Peeta, or Frodo without Sam? Who the protagonist keeps around them says a lot about them. While you're building up your protagonist these characters will be needed as the beams of support. It is just as important to develop supporting characters as it is your protagonist, because while your main character is advancing the plot, the side characters are always contributing to the story. Remember, your character has the weight of the world on their shoulders! They are the "chosen one" but they can't do it alone.
Step 4: Give your protagonist an irrevocably evil antagonist
Give your protagonist a polar opposite that leaves no doubt in mind who the villain is! Your antagonist needs be someone that people love to hate, meaning an antagonist should be just as layered and complex as your protagonist is. A generic villain is the downfall of many movies and books. A hero must be fighting against a villain more powerful than themselves, and learn to beat them as the story progresses. Don't get lazy when it comes to your villain! (Tip: For best results have your protagonist kill children. Voldemort tried to kill a baby, Darth Vader slaughtered a bunch of young padawans, President Snow thrust kids into an arena to kill each other, and Count Olaf's goal in life was to theatrically kill the Baudelaire kids and steal their money.)
Step 5: Give your Protagonist an awesome mentor!
Harry had Dumbeldore, Luke had Yoda, Frodo had Gandalf, Katniss had Haymitch, and Neo had Morpheus. Just like them, your character will need guidance on their journey. This character should be wise and mysterious, and full answers, but they should let the protagonist figure out these answers for themselves.
Step 6: Your protagonist must be on a quest!
Whether it's destroying a ring, destroying Horcruxes, or taking down an evil dictator, your character has to be on some sort of heroic quest to save their world!
Step 7 (Part 1): Make sure your protagonist is in constant danger
This one is very important! Your character must always be in danger. If you give your character too much security things will get boring fast! For example, think about Neo from the Matrix. In the first movie while he is becoming "the one" he constantly has to fight for his life against the agents including one of the greatest antagonists of all time: the insidious Mr. Smith! However, in the following installments he is virtually indestructible and not even a hundred Mr. Smiths can harm him which is immensely BORING! Now think about Harry Potter in the graveyard scene of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry is alone and Voldemort has just been brought back to human form with Harry in his cross hairs. There was no way Harry could get out of the situation alive, and yet somehow, against all odds, he escapes! Similarly, Frodo is completely wrapped in a spider's web in Return of the King, Luke has his hand sliced off and is dangling in outer space in The Empire Strikes Back, and Katniss is trapped in a tree with numerous careers beneath her in The Hunger Games. They all survive, because...
Step 7 (Part 2): Make your protagonist secretly invincible!
This one should be obvious. You can't go killing off your main character! But the key word here is secretly. Your character can be beaten, stabbed, shot etc. but they cannot die! The best part about this rule is the reader "secretly" knows this already! It's an unspoken agreement between writer and reader.
Step 8: Your protagonist must be flawed
Always remember your character is human and life isn't always pretty. They need to feel the weight of their journey crushing them! They need to have hard times, moments of weakness, conflicts, and sometimes they need to be downright jerks to the people they love. Sometimes you have to not like your protagonist in order to actually like your protagonist. I know that sounds a little confusing, but the more a reader can relate to your protagonist the better.
Step 9: Make your character brave but not fearless!
There's something about a character that goes head on into danger that everyone loves, but that doesn't mean your character should be fearless. Remember, your character has human emotions. You think Harry wasn't scared when he was fighting off Dementors? Or that Frodo wasn't scared of orcs? However, the enemy is never the protagonist's biggest fear. Every protagonist's worst fear is failure. The world is counting on them and they know it! Last but not least:
Step 10: This one is simple... Love your protagonist, because if you don't, no one will!
“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
― Stephen King