Harry Potter. Zélie Adebola. Sherlock Holmes. Eleanor Oliphant. Winnie-the-Pooh. What do these characters, all spanning different eras and genres, have in common? They’re some of the most beloved protagonists in literature! Why are these characters so popular with readers—and how can you craft a similar protagonist for your novel or short story? The experts at Writer’s Relief have some tips for writing a protagonist readers will love.
Tips For Writing A Protagonist Readers Will Love
- The best-loved characters are well-rounded characters. Readers may enjoy a mysterious protagonist at first, but it’s hard to really care about someone you don’t know. Give your protagonist strong characterization to create a three-dimensional portrayal. For example, using differing tactics like description and dialogue will help your readers get to know your character’s unique personality traits. From his dialogue, you can tell Sherlock is very intelligent, and from his actions, it’s also clear he has an obsessive personality—traits that make him a master detective!
- Your protagonist doesn’t have to be perfect. Readers will be much more connected to a realistic character than to a flawless one. Give your main character some realistic shortcomings. Harry Potter is not a top student, and he does have a bit of sass. Of course, don’t go so far as to make your protagonist unlikable—focus on giving your character room to grow, rather than knocking them down.
- Readers should want to be on your protagonist’s team. Through the best times and the worst, you want readers to root for your main character. Start by giving your protagonist a clear goal. Then, let readers know what your protagonist is up against in reaching that goal. Zélie Adebola wants to bring back magic and bring down the ruthless monarchy, but it’s a dangerous undertaking. A clear, well-defined motive helps set up a clear, well-defined journey, and you want readers to follow your protagonist through thick and thin!
- Details about your main character will make a difference. Once you establish your protagonist’s main personality traits, start building in smaller details: likes and dislikes; unique quirks; concerns; etc. Winnie-the Pooh’s honey cravings get him into tight situations, but it’s hard not to love his childlike innocence. If you’re having trouble defining your character’s mannerisms and habits, try “asking” your protagonist these interview-style questions.
- A lovable protagonist has a vulnerable side. Readers won’t feel fully invested in your main character’s journey unless they can forge an emotional connection. Eleanor Oliphant struggles with socializing, and readers can’t help but root for her success as she fumbles ahead—while also worrying about her getting hurt.
One More Tip For Making Readers Love Your Main Character
- Show your protagonist through the eyes of others. Every great book has memorable secondary characters who interact with the protagonist. Sherlock has Dr. Watson, who is his best friend, assistant, and first-person narrator. Harry has Hermione and Ron, who are like family and see him at his best and weakest moments. Other characters can reveal heartwarming details about your protagonist that readers might not otherwise see—and make your main character that much more lovable.
A main character who is embraced by your readers will help make your short story or novel a success. With these strategies, you can create a protagonist your readers will cheer for and love!
Question: Who do you consider a lovable protagonist?