Wednesday, December 12, 2012
While his wife, Anirra, waits and worries Julian Hayes is lost in the storm. Is the woman he meets on the road another lost pilgrim, as she seems, or is she really the dreaded ban sidhe come to steal his soul and visit him with the worst of Holiday luck.
Question: Someone in my writing class said they didn't like my protagonist. I didn't know it was a popularity contest. Okay, he has plenty of flaws in his character, and he does some stupid things, but he's my main character and I'm sticking with him.
Answer: Almost always a protagonist is someone the reader will identify with, admire, and root for. He will have a problem and the reader will want him to solve it. That should be true of every story. It's why he's called a PRO-tagonist. We are supposed to be for him.
Readers read in order to vicariously experiences other times and places, other lives, other people's problems. Almost always the protagonist will act from noble or admirable motives. If not the former, they must act at least from understandable ones. That doesn't mean the progagonist has to be perfect.
Certainly your leading character must have human flaws and make mistakes -- otherwise there's no story, only "happily ever after" and that's the end! But take a long look at why your protagonist does things and make sure you have gotten his reasons across to the reader. Try always to keep the character's motivation for doing disagreeable things in terms the reader will understand.
You can let a character make any kind of foolish decision or take any kind of dangerous action if you give them a good enough reason for the reader to feel as if they might have done the same thing in the circumstances.
To quote my good friend Alice Orr (Thanks, lady!), "Good characters keep secrets, tell lies, and take risks for good reasons. Bad characters keep secrets, tell lies, and take risks, for bad reasons. But they all have a reason to keep secrets, take risks, and tell lies."
That reason is the character’s motivation. One reason writers of romantic suspense get criticized is because the dimwit heroine always goes blindly into the house filled with weird characters and murderers determined to solve the mystery herself, when any sane person would go away and call the police. BUT if she has been warned not to contact the police, although someone she cares deeply about has been kidnapped and is likely to be inside that house, ANY of us might go in.
If a seemingly wrong decision is made, the reader should feel as if they might have done the same thing. It was no fool who said, "We are the sum of our experiences, not the sum of our possessions." It is your job, as a writer, to mold the reader's experience from the time they open your story.