When composing a work of creative fiction – whether it be a short story, a novella, or a full-fledged novel – remember that the protagonist, or the main character, usually guides the ebb and the flow of the story. Stephen King, author of over one hundred novels and short stories, recommends emphasizing your character’s development first, placing them in a situation, and then allowing the story to unfold, rather than outlining a plot from the beginning.
Developing a convincing protagonist, then, is crucial. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the daunting task of creating your main character and aren’t sure how to approach his/her development, below are a few interesting questions to ask yourself (and your character) that can help you begin to form an idea of what your character is like – such as his/her past and future, aspirations, interests etc.
The first question, for example, is “what do they (the character) want most?” Author Kurt Vonnegut, a highly regarded novelist known for his biting satires, once said that “every character should want something.” In other words, your character should have desires – otherwise your character won’t be convincing to your reader. Everyone wants something – but it’s the “something” that defines who a person is and who they become. Desires and motivations and goals are what gives a life meaning and purpose. Does your character want a high-paying job? A new violin? Do they want a person to love? Remember that you want your character to be convincing – make your reader believe that your character exists.
Give your reader someone to root for, to develop a relationship with, to feel empathy for. And remember to give your character flaws – that’s what makes them human! Ultimately, your character should become as human as you. You want your character to be dynamic, as opposed to a “static character.” Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice could be an example of a dynamic character because what she wants, what she cares about, and ultimately who she is as a person changes by the end of the book.
Once you’re able to answer these questions, your character should begin to take shape. And once you’ve developed your character, place him/her in a difficult or conflicting situation and see what happens!
- What do they want most?
- What are they afraid of?
- What is their greatest strength?
- Greatest weakness?
- What is their most treasured childhood memory?
- What do they like most about their physical appearance?
- What do they dislike?
- When do they feel most at peace?
- If they could be anything in the world, what would they be?
- How do they feel about their relationship with their mother?
- What is their guilty pleasure?
- When was the last time they cried by themselves?
- When was the last time they cried in front of someone else?
- If they could change anything about the way they were raised, what would it be?
- For what in life do they feel most grateful?
- What is it that they resent the most?
- Do they play an instrument?
- What do they value most in a friendship?
- How close and warm is their family?
- Do they sleep well at night?
- How would they spend $10,000?
- What’s something they do without realizing?
- Are they in love?
- Do they even know what love is?
- Is there something they’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?
- Why haven’t they done it?
If you’re interested in learning more about developing your protagonist, this is a great article to check out!