Some tips for writing believable, relatable protagonists:
- Have you done a personality test for your protag? I had some issues with my main character in The Crows because I thought she was flat and not as likeable as I wanted her to be. I took an MBTI test for her and she came out as an ISFJ.
My MC is quite empathic, probs bc she’s an ISFJ! She is also an only child but she has anxiety and circumstantial depression so she’s more sensitive to co-workers and friends with mental health challenges. pic.twitter.com/5pjHj9oYTx
— C. M. Rosens (@CMRosens) August 18, 2018
The personality test results helped me to:
a) see where Carrie was acting/saying things that didn’t seem right and fix them using her test results as a guide to how she would actually act/what she would actually say
b) get a better idea of how she had developed these traits and construct a more realistic view of her as a person, including her childhood, school days, formative experiences, etc. Your personality does change as you age and grow, as you learn new things about yourself and others around you. What would make you lean so far towards judging rather than prospecting/perceiving as a decision-making tactic? If the J is innate, could it be compounded by negative experiences of people who are more P?
c) better understand and make use of the weaknesses of the ISFJ type, with the reasoning behind it, made perfect sense in the context of the story. Carrie is in deep financial trouble when the novel begins, and yet feels unable to take people up on their offers of help. In the first draft where her personality was not so clearly defined and she came across as a flat, Mary Sue character, this just made her irritating. Understanding her personality type as a whole enabled me to rewrite her so that she was far more believable and relatable in this regard.
Not sure what your character is? Try out 16Personalities or another free version of the test!
2. Have you assessed your character’s Mary Sue/Gary Stu potential? This type of character is generally an idealised projection of the author themselves, or what the author wishes they were, or wishes someone could be. As well as being wish-fulfillment fodder, the character themselves is generally more stereotypical than original, conforming to stereotypes found within their genre.
Not sure? You could take a character test at:
3) Try out this character checklist, courtesy of authorzoo.com.au:
4) Interested in doing more character-based research? My Pinterest Board, #WritingTips Characters, has you covered, with pins on:
- Writing Antagonists
- Diversity & Realism – blog posts, tumblr posts, etc on writing a diverse cast of characters, not just racially diverse but across various spectrums. It covers intersectionality, writing realistic scenes/dialogue, handling violence and fight scenes realistically, crafting realistic character arcs etc. I also have a board on writing realistic dialogue here.
- Creating new Characters: Templates and Questions
- Describing Physical Characteristics – how to write body language, physical appearance, etc.
- Personality and Motivations of your characters – lots of pins about Emotional Intelligence, personality types, character motivations, archetypes and so on.
- Writing about mental health and mental illness in your novel is a difficult thing, especially as one person’s experience is not the same as another’s. It’s also very difficult to write a character who suffers from a condition you do not – the same is true for writing a disabled or differently abled character, or a neuro-divergent character. Definitely consider getting/definitely get a sensitivity reader if you plan on writing a character like this.
- Is your character magical or do they have powers or abilities? Got you covered on this board!
- NAMES!! My favourite sites for naming my own characters are 20,000 names and behind the name/behind the surname. You can look up most popular names by year (useful for historical fiction) or by meaning, or by your favourite names themselves.
- Killing Characters and Writing Grief is the saddest board on my Pinterest. It has a lot of bereavement counselling advice which looks at the grief process and grieving needs of children and teens, which can be overlooked or not understood in YA/KidLit especially. A lot of authors seem to finish the grieving in a paragraph or two and then bring the sadness up again only to further the plot, rather than craft a character with it. Also, killing characters should have knock-on effects for the rest of the characters in the novel, and they will all respond differently.
Follow the boards that take your fancy – I update them quite frequently.
Introduce Your Protagonist!
Now it’s YOUR turn! Are you writing a novel or story at the moment? INTRODUCE US TO YOUR MAIN CHARACTER IN THE COMMENTS!
Self-promotion of books is allowed on this post… so don’t forget to add any links to your social media, your blog or Facebook page where alerts will be announced, or links to your work if it’s published anywhere online or is available to buy.
Make sure you introduce your main character to us first though!!