So, What Kind of Protagonists Do I Write?

>> Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I told you all I liked imperfect characters (and noted that I'm not alone feeling that way), so it seems reasonable to ask me to put my money where my mouth is and find out what I do when I'm writing my characters.

Ah. Well, when it comes to protagonists (not the bad guys) there are two different types. There are the main characters, and there are often a small group of them. Depending on the scope of the project, some might not be equally prominent or even key players in each book. One thing about all "my" main characters: they begin with me.

Why me? Well, because I'm complex and because I know me like most people don't. None of them are me, though. Usually, I take one or two of my features, put it in someone and add some complementary aspects I don't have. I try to make it something I like about myself coupled with something that's less appealing. Like Layla who is terribly efficient and capable, but is also abrasive and caustic. Or Tander, who has a wonderful sense of humor, but is also a bit cavalier when it comes to responsibility. Then, it's just a matter of putting them in the right environment. Other characters have other traits of mine and other marked differences. It's like being a multiple personality, like playing what if not only as myself but as I might have been if I were, say, athletic or magical or could change shape, or had been spoiled as a child or... The list goes on.

However, there are rules for my "main" characters. First of all, there are no rapists among my protagonists (even the small characters). Never. My characters are always basically honest because it's a character trait I cherish. My characters are rarely popular because I know nothing about that (though they are, at times, respected for their abilities). And smart. It's not in me to make a stupid main character. I mean, I could make one, but I'd keep rolling my eyes.

With side characters, though, I'm often looking for good ensemble characters, people who remind me of people I know. I usually work them for teamwork and humor, but I also have capturing some aspect of someone I really enjoyed. However, unlike my main characters, these characters don't have to honest or smart, they can be popular or ignorant or even teenagery.

Sometimes a side character grows into a main character. Once in a while, my husband inspires a character, sometimes a main character, sometimes a side, and his characters also don't necessarily fit my honest/smart mode.

The big thing, and I try to make this true of all my characters, is to leave them room to grow. A stagnant character, like a perfect one, soon becomes a dead bore - not just for a reader, but for me.


  • flit

    I love your characters... but especially the kittens :)

    And K'Ti

  • Stephanie B

    Thanks, flit. The kittens are really side characters, but, since I love 'em, I accept them.

  • Shakespeare

    I like the kittens, too, though not because they remind me of me...

    Characters should be flawed to a degree, but not to the point where I can't stand them. Then the book's no fun to read!

  • Stephanie B

    I wish I'd read my earlier comment better before posting it. The kittens aren't like me, but I like 'em anyway.

    I'm glad you like them. My characters, at least the main ones, all have a streak of me, which is why I know they're not perfect. But, I'm not sure what it says about me that I like all of my characters as well, genuinely like them and enjoy my time with them. Is that healthy to spend so much time with pieces of yourself and still enjoy it or am I a closet megalomaniac? Or are those two not mutually exclusive?

  • Patricia Rockwell

    I know what you mean when you say your main character needs to be you--or at least part of you. My main character in my mystery is really me in all respects except she is far more daring than I ever could be. I think that's one reason I liked writing the story--so I could be something I normally never would be.

  • Stephanie B

    See, you get it. I do that, too.

  • Stephanie B

    I'm actually daring enough, but I often toy with being athletic or able to kick people's butt.

  • Phyl

    I enjoy all my characters too, but I think of it less as being a megalomaniac and more in the sense that I'm living in their heads the whole time I'm writing. So they're almost my friends as well as my characters.

  • Phyl


  • Ravyn

    Closet megalomaniac? Where would you get that impression?

    I've found that sort of attachment to the characters to be important to a good writing process. It's certainly an approved-of trait in the tabletop RPG community; I think the only time people start objecting to it is when someone takes things happening to or critique of a character personally, or when they won't stop sharing no matter how disinterested you are.

    Don't sweat the attachment. There's nothing wrong with you.

  • Stephanie B

    Phyl, kittens are important characters in my first novel and are likely to be big in my second. Not just plot devices but comedy relief as well. (They "talk")

  • Stephanie B

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ravyn. I'm not sure there's nothing wrong with me, but I'm glad it's not something I need to be worried about.

  • Maine

    Some suggestions for characters :

    sephirothe- final fantasy anime
    aizen souske- bleach anime
    kai hitwari- beyblade
    archer- fate stay night anime

    i can go on and on with list of rocking charactres, i hope you paint some killer chracter image in mind :p

  • Bob Johnson

    Lol, "but I'd keep rolling my eyes". I'm with flit, I love your cat characters, you seem to understand them so well, they are actually quite complex and mysterious.I do have a question though, when you start with a character do you know where they are going or do you mold them with the basics you have started with into what you need at the end?

  • Stephanie B

    Bob, it's a fine question and one I can readily answer: I build up a character, build a situation and then generally stand back while they do their own things. If I've done a good job, they'll need little if any nudging when I figure out where I want them to go (and often I figure that out as I go).

    It will likely surprise no one that, although I pride myself on my characters, my plots are generally weak.

  • Bob Johnson

    Cool answer.

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