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Developing A Memorable Protagonist

Updated: Apr 30

A memorable protagonist can make all the difference in the success of your story and your career as an author. Character creation isn’t hard, you simply imagine a person and flesh it out with features and personality. But in order to develop a larger than life character, specifically a memorable protagonist who is the anchor of the story, we must go a few steps further down the rabbit hole. We must put on her proverbial shoes and see what makes her tick in order to develop her into a strong leading player... one your reader will remember.

A woman writing a novel on a laptop.

Consider these points as you create your next protagonist:


TALK TO THEM

One of the great techniques that Sierra Kay uses when writing her thriller novels, is to sit the characters down in a chair and talk to them. Try it! Find out who your lead character is, and as you do so, weave this information into an extraordinary protagonist with a bio that is interesting, relatable and memorable. Make her worthy of the lead.


CREATE PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES:


When developing your protagonist be careful not to fall into the trap of making her the most beautiful woman that ever lived. That’s been done and readers are not falling for it anymore. Plus, if it’s ever a film adaptation who the heck is going to fill that role?


A better way to develop their physical demeanor is to be realistic. Yes, she may be beautiful, but what makes her so? Is it her chocolate brown eyes that sparkle when she smiles? Is it her sharp cheekbones that clench when she’s thinking? Is it because her ponytail is always perky and bounces when she walks? What makes her beautiful to you and more so, what will the audience appreciate?


In addition, the reader needs to know what she looks like, and fairly early in the story so we can identify her in our mind and picture her acting out the story..


The sky really is the limit when developing the physical attributes of your protagonist. The key is to describe things that identify her, make them interesting and then down the road link those attributes to the story in some way. Bingo! A dynamic well-developed character.


  1. Identify with description.

  2. Make it interesting.

  3. Link it later in the story.


So she has nice legs. Okay, what makes them nice? Are they long and strong? Is she a runner? And how do those legs relate to the story? Do they help her get away from a killer just in the knick of time? Tie it all in. Make the physical attributes work for the protagonist instead of just being the obligatory description. It will create an unforgettable and relatable character and bring your readers back for more.


PERSONALITY TRAITS:


Another way to develop a memorable protagonist is to find a balance in exposing her personality traits. No one is perfect. We want to develop a heroine that has traits that are admirable, but paradoxically we also want to see her weaknesses. How she rises above her shortcomings is what makes her a hero.


Is she loyal, determined, optimistic and trustworthy? Maybe she has a weakness for men who exploit those qualities. How she handles these conundrums develops the layers with which we can understand her, and understanding our protagonist is the name of the game.


STAND FOR SOMETHING:


What does your character stand for and more importantly, what won’t she stand for? When a protagonist’s principles are pushed to the limits, it develops character… just like real life. This creates a relatable character, because the reader will wonder what they would do in that same situation.


An inciting incident can be just the catalyst that challenges your protagonist, allowing the reader to see the under layers of their decision-making. As readers we naturally empathize with our characters when they have to make tough calls and we cheer for them when they do the right thing.


So go deep on this one. Let the reader know what their principles are and why they believe what they do.


BREAKING POINT:


Which brings us to our next point. What is her breaking point? How much will she put up with before she snaps and really pushes back, causing action in the story?


Does your protagonist have a long or short fuse? Is someone or something testing their patience? Creating backstory is a great way to make your protagonist come to life, giving the reader insight as to how much they will actually put up with. This creates tension because the reader knows the character and when someone is about to mess around and find out.


Developing her breaking point, and watching her react to it, makes for a memorable character.


In conclusion, developing a memorable protagonist that readers will love and remember is a matter of highlighting what matters most. Avoid cliches, make every description and motivation count toward her character and climatic triumph.


your Sierra Kay Takeaways:


  1. Talk to your character - Sit your protagonist down and let her speak. Why does she matter? What makes her unique? Take this information and create a character worth writing about.

  2. Create physical attributes - Use description to identify the character, make the attributes described interesting and link the attributes to the action throughout the story.

  3. Personality traits - Developing your protagonist's personality traits such as humble, kind and impulsive will share with the reader that they are a hero, but certainly not perfect.

  4. Stand for something - Knowing what your protagonist will and won't stand for will create a connection with readers.

  5. Breaking point - What is your protagonist's breaking point and how will she handle it? These two points of references will make for a unforgettable character experience for your readers.

What Sierra Kay Take Away are you ready to implement?


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