Building an Awesome Protagonist

I’ve been re-reading Donald Maass’ excellent book Writing The Break-Out Novel. There’s also a workbook that goes along with it. In the chapter dealing with creating protagonists, there’s an interesting exercise I’d like to share with you. 

(photo courtesy of
First, answer the following questions:

1. What is the one thing your protagonist would never, ever say?
2. What is the one thing your protagonist would never, ever do?
3. What is the one that your protagonist would never, ever think?
Now find a place in your story where your protagonist must say, do, and think those things. I know it sounds hard, but look at these examples:
  • Bilbo Baggins would never, ever say that wizards can be trusted. He’d never, ever embark on an adventure. He’d never, ever think about going on such an adventure. And yet…
  • Luke Skywalker would never, ever say that Darth Vader could be an agent of good. He’d never, ever leave his aunt and uncle to rescue a princess. He’d never, ever think that he could master the Jedi ways. And yet…
  • Cassandra Christofides (the heroine of one of my novels) would never, ever say she could be used by God to save another person’s life. She’d never, ever drive herself to Seattle. She’d never, ever think that she could make a difference. And yet…
Maass gives this tidbit at the end of the exercise:
What qualifies as a larger-than-life action? Winking at a stranger is easy for a flirt; to a shy person it is huge. Taking a swing at someone is no big deal for a boxer; for me it would be  life changing. Whatever it is, it is a surprise. If feels big. It feels outrageous. It is satisfying because once in a while we would all like to let loose our inner devil–or angel. Here is your chance. Let your character do, say, or think something memorable.
Now try it on your protagonist. Share your thoughts with the rest of us in the comments section, please.

2 thoughts on “Building an Awesome Protagonist

  1. Pingback: The Key to a Great Story – Protagonists | A Young Writer's Notebook

  2. Pingback: » Creating Memorable Characters

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