The Protagonist Is Always The Most Important Character…Even When They’re Not.
How often do you read a story and imagine yourself in the shoes of the protagonist? Did you have a character or superhero that you wished you could be when you were younger? Or perhaps you would read about their adventures and ask yourself if you would have made the same choices they did if it was happening to you?
Chances are this happens all the time, even when the protagonist is nothing special. No matter what perspective somebody writes from, readers will usually experience a story from the same perspective as the main protagonist(s). It’s the most natural viewpoint for them to imagine things from and in many good stories, they’ll imagine it as if they themselves are that character. It’s natural, and it’s the sign of a good protagonist that readers can relate to.
Therefore it’s important when writing a story to ensure that you understand the way your protagonist thinks and acts. This is important for any character central to your story really.
Now this can come naturally but sometimes it can seem daunting, especially if you’re writing about a personality that doesn’t coincide with your own. It’s harder to emulate someone who is introverted when you yourself are extroverted and vice versa.
You may not be able to base a character like that off of yourself but there’s always someone else you could base them on?
The Whole World Is A Reference
There are over 7 billion people in the world today and every single one of them is unique.There can be similarities in their appearance, personality, dressing style, culture, sense of humor and so on and so forth but when it’s all combined into one person, it’s always a brand new combination. Isn’t that amazing?
We only engage with a small fraction of those people throughout our lives and yet we will still encounter at least tens of thousands of unique personalities. Some we’ll get to know over a matter of years and some we’ll only know for a few moments but each one will be new in some shape or form. You’re having trouble finding a reference for your next protagonist? There’s references all around you!
You may not understand these people fully but you can still question what influences and motivates them from a distance. When you think about it, that’s all we really do in life; Question what drives the people around us, even ourselves. You don’t need all the answers to create a protagonist that readers relate to.
Characters Don’t Need To Seem Real To Be Understood
Writers spend a lot of time trying to create “believable” characters but what does that even mean? Usually it comes down to what the writer (or society) views as normal but yourself have probably met a few people in your life that don’t fit that criteria.
I mean, I’ve met a man with three sets of headphones around his neck and a luminous safety jacket dancing on a bus despite the headphones not actually being on his head! I’ve had a drunk try to hit me because she didn’t like my choice of Chinese takeaway food and I’ve watched a performance of acoustic love songs dedicated to Jennifer Aniston by a green haired gentleman who introduced himself off-stage as Hybrid! He also invited me to join him on a trip to London to bring down Parliament, what a nice chap.
My point is, some people are more unique than you’d expect but the only thing different about them is what influenced them to become who they are today! The unpredictability of human beings is the most obvious and believable thing in the world, it doesn’t matter if that uniqueness is caused by a person’s biology, culture, upbringing, health, personal experiences or in my examples, probably drugs!
What’s important is that you question the motives and influences of these characters you aren’t familiar with and try to see things through their eyes.
You have to be honest with yourself as to how you yourself have changed and grown as a person over time, for better or worse. Question what influences made you the way you are, for better or worse and compare that to someone who completely different to you.
What would it have taken in your life for you to turn out like them? Would it need to be something big or just a small series of events that could have turned you in a different direction? How would you act differently in that life?
When you begin to answer those questions you start to get inside the head of your characters and understand them better, even if you don’t have all the right answers. Try to dive into the shoes of the character that stems from those questions because it’s from those same shoes that readers will perceive your story.
Some people think that this requires some knowledge in psychology but I think it’s simply a case of developing some empathy. The world is all about people and our stories are no different. It benefits your writing – and your life – if you try to understand them.