Most people are followers, sheep to use a Biblical reference. Your protagonist (also known as viewpoint character, he or she through whose eyes your world is illuminated) cannot be a sheep bleating through life, must not be, or your story will fail to engage the reader.
Your responsibility as a creator is, foremost, to engage the reader through the eyes of your main character; otherwise, the story—regardless of word skill or plotting prowess—will fail.
Create a hero, one who leads by example, a character others will gladly follow, and you have the nucleus of a successful story. Other story attributes must also be present, of course, but the protagonist is where all stories begin.
Your protagonist should, in some ways, exist apart from the world they occupy. By having the main character not part of the crowd, they take on a unique, larger-than-life appearance. How do you shine a bright light on the character you have chosen?
Focus on the character’s moral compass.
A good example of this is the Masterpiece Theater production of Poldark, a historical series based on the novels of Winston Graham.
Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall, England, after fighting in the war against the upstart Americans across the seas, and finds his father dead and his once opulent life teetering on ruin. Talk about conflict—poor Ross has many daunting obstacles.
In a scene early in the story, a group of blood-thirsty commoners rip the dog from a child’s arms, ready to pitch the poor mongrel into a circle against a teeth-baring dog intent on a fight. Amidst the leering people, the camera shows the smiles and licking of lips. The scene is a frightening one, especially for the child whose beloved pet will soon be killed.
Coming upon the jeering crowd, Ross pushes through, pulls the child from the grips of men restraining her, and barks for the people to stop and go about their business, thus saving the dog. The writer of the story has, in one scene, highlighted Ross Poldark’s moral compass.
That moral compass holds true through several plots and sub-plots of the ensuing story.
You must do the same. Pit your lead against the world, and make them battle to right the wrongs. That is their job, their purpose, and thereby a hero is born.
A hero is a person others admire, even if they do not like them.
Not every story’s protagonist is a hero, but even when creating an anti-hero, in some way there must be a barometer the reader can associate with, an understanding how and why a character does the things they do when faced by adversity.
My next post will explain the four ways writers create and show the heroism of the lead character.
See You on the Next Page,
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