It’s not easy to build a recurring protagonist for a series. The entire weight of whether you will get a chance to write multiple books or stories with one protagonist, rests on how well you have managed to sketch that one character. Our aim is to create a protagonist which will win over the readers and compel them to come back to reading further books in the series.
So how do we build a multidimensional, living breathing protagonist, with just a pen and a paper?
Most important things to keep in mind while designing your recurring protagonist
There are three things to keep in mind when you start sketching your protagonist for a recurring series:
Make it Intriguing – For a series, we need a protagonist which invokes intrigue in the readers. So, if you want your readers to come back for the succeeding instalments of your series, then give them an intriguing lead.
There is no point in having a great story, if the reader does not come out of it, floored by your central character. It is essential, because this is where you win or lose your bid for the series, both with the publishers and the readers.
Make it Resilient– Let’s face it. Everyone loves a protagonist who can bounce back from failures stronger. Don’t make your protagonist whine about the troubles and trials of it’s life all the time. It should know how to take failure in stride. Stack up as many odds as you can against your protagonist and have it claw its way out of it, to showcase its resilience
Make it Peculiar– Give your protagonist an individual identity. Make it peculiar. Make it snappy. Make it quirky. But do so without getting influence by other famous protagonists. Especially when writing detective fiction, give an effort to make your protagonist unlike anyone your readers might have come across ever.
Designing a Protagonist
The three basic layers, which are essential to a character sketch are:
Appearance, Strength and Character, and Inner turmoil. So ask yourselves questions about every aspect of your character’s personality. Another important thing is to link all these layers to each other, to give it more complexity.
You can use these guidelines to give you a start in designing your protagonist
Appearance – Gender, Age Bracket, Built, Facial Features, Identifying features, Dressing Style, and any Disfigurement or Disability.
Go over the appearance of your character every now and then. Especially revise it, before you start a new book.
Strength and Character: It will include all the traits that we look for in friends and acquaintances in real life. These are some common traits with which a person gains loyalty from his friends etc. That is our exact aim- to gain loyalty and affection of our readers.
Integrity, strong will, passion along with other traits like loyalty to any institution, or friends or family usually help to make a character likable. You can add or subtract from these qualities as per your wish.
Just refrain from giving your Protagonist a skill or character trait in the last ten pages of the book, to make the climax more crackling. If you feel stuck, and it seems like there is no way out of the situation in the book, without altering your character sketch, then make the desired change. Now go back to the beginning and incorporate the change somewhere.
Again, ask yourselves question about the character of your protagonist. Is your protagonist witty or sarcastic? Jolly or intense or moody? Is it compassionate, and shows empathy towards others, or not?
If you are writing crime fiction, then you will have to ask these additional questions. What does it stand to gain from solving the crime? Moral victory, vindication, revenge or pure thrill? Also, you should have an idea on the protagonist’s stand on law. Is it a law-abiding citizen, or a vigilante…or works around the law, without disturbing the social harmony?
You can give your character sketch uniqueness by adding some quirks. Give your protagonist a quirky eating habit, body movement, or a preference to a certain fabric, or even to a specific climate or city or pub or restaurant. You can even consider giving it a vice or addiction like alcoholism or gambling. But you have to be careful here, as any addiction will invoke strong reaction from readers, if not handled tastefully.
Your Protagonist’s life: The Past, The Present and the Future
Use incidences from your character’s past to reason its behaviour or personality. You can also use certain incidences to mark the transition of time from past to present in your character’s life. Set up an interesting background, for your character. Tell the readers about the protagonist’s family. Its financial or educational background. Use this information to lay a comparison between its life then and now.
The Universe around your Protagonist
Your protagonist lives in the universe you have created in your story. The story may change, especially in case of detective fiction, with every new book. But the micro universe around it will remain constant to an extent. E.g.: 221 B Baker Street, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry etc.
This micro universe will travel with your protagonist from one book to another. Like the house it lives in, the office it works at, or the society or the neighbours which live close to your central character. Keep in mind that these things can also change over course of time, but you have to remain consistent otherwise.
Conclusion: Every protagonist carries with it, a part of the writer. For us it is like our child, and we cannot ever find faults in it. Hence it is always important to get a second opinion on your Recurring Protagonist’s sketch. Ask a friend or hire professional help. Or if you re already sending out book proposals, pay attention to the editor’s feedback.
Sometimes, things might not work out the way you wanted to. But if you get rejected, use the feedback to sketch a sharper and stronger protagonist. Your hard work is bound to pay off. Just keep writing and have some patience.