Your Protagonist’s Needs

No author when asked about his book says, “It’s about some guy …” Our novels are about people who, although fictional, are real. If you like flat, two-dimensional characters, then read Rudy Anaya. But if you would like to creative interesting and compelling characters, there are 7 things your main character needs.


Everybody wants something. What a person wants factors into the choices made. Literary characters cannot be different. What our hero desires is almost what defines that person. David Copperfield wanted a wife. Henry Sutpen wanted a big house. No write can obey the precept, “Show, don’t tell,” if a character’s actions are not anchored to his desire.


Something needs to get in your heroes way and keep him from getting what he wants. If not, the main character succeeds in the first chapter, and your novel becomes a short story. The bigger the obstacle, the greater the tension, and the greater the tension, the more interesting your book is. The page-turner, the book someone can’t put down contains grater tension because of higher obstacles.


Nobody’s perfect. In fact, a perfect hero is boring. His challenges end up being no challenge at all. Flaws make your main characters real. Flaws may be thought of as internal obstacles. There may be plenty of things that keep your hero from getting what he wants, but one of them has to be himself.


People are people, which means we’re all the same and we’re all different. Our characters must be as individualistic as we can make them or they will be boring. What we want, what we do, what we say, and so many other things go into making a unique main character. Plain and indistinctive heroes are found in books that aren’t read.



One special obstacle is the villain. He can want the same thing as our hero or he can want our hero to not get what he wants. Possibly our antagonists acts in some way that is determines what out main character wants. A good example of this is the typical vengeance tale. Our villains, like our heroes, need to be individuals. A little bit of humanity or even sympathy makes them more intriguing.


This life is hard, and we all need a friend once in a while. Your main character can benefit from a Yoda or a Merlin. It doesn’t even need to be a mentor-type, or someone older. It may be a good friend who is there for encouragement or inspiration. They may teach something or give a gift that somehow helps your hero.


Just as your hero needs angles, so is he in need of demons, as well. He may not want them, but he needs them. Different from your antagonist, and more like a foil to your angels, a main character’s demons may tell him he can’t get what he wants. This may be a friend, even a very well intentioned friend, or someone looking out for the welfare of the hero, as incorrect or misguided as they may be.

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