How do you write a compelling main character who can take the reader on a ride and compel them to be on their side or cry over their tragedies? What does it mean when a character is well rounded? Does a character have to be good in order to be a protagonist?
If the current lineup of superhero movies gives any indication, it’s that there’s more than one way to be a compelling protagonist. Heroes like Supergirl and Wonder Woman have straightforward morals and convictions. Heroes like Jessica Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, on the other hand, are not so clean-cut. However, what they have in common is that they all work towards a clearly defined goal and have unique, distinct personalities.
It’s really easy to try and write a novel based on your experiences and there is a way that you can do that, but don’t turn novel writing into gratuitous wish-fulfillment or a revenge fantasy. Don’t just limit yourself to making your character look different from you, either. See what you can do to make your protagonist act in a different way from you. One way to do this is to give them a personality type that’s different from yours. If you’re an introvert, make them an extrovert, for example. Check out the Myers-Briggs Personality Types and, for additional fun, sort your characters into Hogwarts houses! This will help you create a character with their own personality.
Also, make sure that your protagonist has a goal. Your main character needs to change in some way. The best stories revolve around how a character changes due to choices and/or circumstances. What does your character want out of life? How will she get what she wants? What prevents her from achieving her goal? Make this desire or goal specific!
If you want to write a female character, don’t be afraid of making your woman feminine as well as strong. In fact, I’m gonna quote Tumblr here
Screw writing “strong” women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.
The only bad female character, if you ask me , is one who’s flat. One who isn’t realistic. One who has no agency of her own, who only exists to define other characters (usually men). Write each woman you write as if she has her own life story, her own motivations, her own fears and strengths, and even if she’s only in the story for one page, she will be a real person, and THAT is what we need. Not a phalanx of women who can karate-chop your head off, but REAL women, who are people, with all the complexity and strong and not-strong that goes with it.
We need strong, female characters to inspire us and young girls. However, don’t make their strength their only defining characteristic. Give your main character some flaws to overcome.
That’s how you write a great protagonist.