Your Protagonist & You

After approximately five years of working on my current novel, A Whitewashed Tomb (title subject to change), I’m only on chapter five. This can be pretty typical for first-time writers: the excruciating process of trial-and-error, the fear of the blank page, the indecisiveness towards major plot points. But one of the biggest factors that kept me so long from putting pen to paper was this: I could not for the life of me figure out who my protagonist was.

There’s a certain vulnerability that comes from writing a protagonist. He or she is often in part a reflection of yourself. I’ve already gotten questions like, “you don’t have daddy issues like Tabitha does, right?” and “you’re not that bitter about your past, are you?”

When writing a protagonist, I find myself torn between two temptations:

  1. Making my hero the perfect hero I wish I was
  2. Tormenting them with the flaws I fear I have

It’s important to remember two things when faced with this dilemma. One, that no matter how unbiassed you try to be, part of yourself is going to inevitably be imprinted on all your characters – the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. It’s a simple fact of all creative expression, and it’s not a bad thing. This is what makes your voice amid the symphony of literature unique.

mirror

That being said, there are some facets of yourself that can get in the way of writing the protagonist you want to write. So my second point is this: your protagonist is not you. He or she is a fictional character, a figment of your imagination, and letting go of your insecurities is one of the best things you could do for your story.

Some helpful questions to ask yourself are:

  1. What personal experiences are affecting who my protagonist is?
  2. Are these tainting or enhancing their character?
  3. How can I utilize my unique life experiences to create a well-rounded, likable and believable protagonist?
  4. What flaws have I seen in likable people?
  5. Where might I need to do a little healing?

Happy writing, y’all!