Heroic Protagonist

First off, let me say that Pinterest can be a major time-suck. Wow, is it addictive! I saw the cutest picture the other day (see below). Believe it or not, this actually has to do with my post.

(I have no clue where this photo came from – I got it off Pinterest. Please don’t sue me if you’re the legal owner of this shot, just send me a note and I’ll give you all the credit for it.)

Every novel has a hero. Usually he’s called the protagonist (or she – I’m being generic here). But sometimes we strive so hard to make our protagonist an Ordinary Joe, we forget to give him that something extra special that makes him stand out from the rest of the characters. Think about your favorite superhero. I’m going with Wonder Woman, since I wanted to grow up to be her. Now brainstorm what it is about that hero that makes you love him/her so much. I loved Wonder Woman’s combo of justice-seeking and compassion. Plus she could kick butt with those smoking boots. But it was the justice that really appealed to me.
Now examine the protagonist in your current WIP (work in progress). Does he/she have a unique, heroic quality, something that makes him/her shine? If not, you need to come up with one. I’ll give you a minute…
Excellent. The next step is to find a way to actively demonstrate that quality in the first scene or two. Yes, you read that correctly. Showcase this dandy trait right away. The reader will instantly love the hero/protagonist and want to stick around to see what happens.
Or you could give the hero the exact opposite and work it into the inner journey. Incorporate that heroic quality into your final conflict: the hero NEEDS that quality to overcome the final obstacle. If he doesn’t have it, the antagonist wins. Here’s a simple example: your hero needs to selflessly put himself in a potentially deadly situation to save another. The heroic quality he needs is bravery. At the beginning of the novel, you’ll put your hero in a situation where he needs to be brave and put himself in harms way, and he can’t. Somewhere near the middle, give him another shot at it. Again he fails. Then, when he’s faced with the ending conflict, the reader doesn’t really know if your hero will succeed for fail. 
This second scenario makes for a more exciting read, but it leaves your hero looking like an Ordinary Joe at the beginning, so you’ll need to come up with something else to make him appealing: he’s vulnerable, or he cares about someone else more than he cares about himself, or he helps weaker people when it’s in his power to help, or he’s in the midst of a hardship, something like that.
Share your thoughts in the comment section. What heroic quality does your protagonist have, and how did you showcase it in the first or second scene?


3 thoughts on “Heroic Protagonist

  1. Excellent piece. In the novel I’m getting ready to publish, a mystery, the protagonist is a retired cop who has a heart condition, but he’s determined to investigate a man he believes has gotten away with murdering two women. I hope readers find his determination to pursue this case, even when several characters tell him to give up, a reason to identify with the protagonist and to follow him to the story’s conclusion.

    • That’s an extremely heroic character! Readers won’t be able to help but root for him. He’s got the over-arching sense of justice, a vulnerability, a compassion for victims, and a hardship to overcome. He sounds like the perfect hero.

  2. Pingback: Top 10 Heroic Animals | boldcorsicanflame's Blog

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