Monday, April 20, 2015

Character Building: The Protagonists

Back to character building.

As I had previously planned, before trailing off into the proverbial and windy woods of literary theory, let's discuss some types of characters.


When examining protagonists, we can talk about the basic expectation that readers have for a leading character in whom we can believe, someone who has flaws, but someone we can appreciate and like.  But these expectations need to be carefully balanced between what is too predicitable and what breaks too many rules--as my previous posts discussed.

The protagonist should lead the novel, in a sense.  This character is the focus.  In effect, the protagonist needs to be someone interesting enough to keep the readers going, but believable and fallible enough that the plot and conflicts seem natural.

This is where the whole protagonist thing gets mucky.

More and more, the stereotypical protagonist is defined by the genre in which said protagonist shows up.  This can be amusing, one, because we understand the stereotypes so well, and two, because these are the stereotypes that readers flock to (a.k.a., popular reading).

For example, if we decided to create a protagonist for a romance novel, the protagonist would, of course be a woman.  She would probably be struggling with some past hurt or tragedy.  She is probably beautiful and stronger than she realizes.  In the end, love and some good sex will help heal her.  She realizes what a strong and beautiful woman she can be with the love of a good man.  And probably some good sex scenes.

And the cover will show her breasts slightly exposed and in the arms of a well-muscled man, both in some erotic embrace.

Take a protagonist for crime or thriller.  This protagonist might be a man, and more recently, a woman is popular because she can show a certain sensitivity that this protagonist needs in these often gruesome contemporary stories.  This protagonist must have something special that allows them to understand the crimes and problems (intelligence, ESP, etc.), but they must remain caring for readers to stay sensitive to them.

I never cared much for the stereotypes in popular genres--too much like a popular song on the radio that I think I have heard a hundred times.

Outside of the stereotypes lies an open world of possibilities for our central characters.  More on this.

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