This week’s video discusses the qualifications of a protagonist and what to do when minor characters try to take over.
Most of the time we start writing because a particular character has caught our fancy and we want to get to know him better. The guidelines for confirming that a character is protagonist material usually go something like this:
1. He needs to be someone the author cares about. If the character doesn’t interest you, why think he’s going to interest readers?
2. He needs to be someone who has, if not the most at stake, then at least as much at stake as everybody else.
3. He should offer an interesting narrative voice, particularly if you’re going to be portraying him in the first person.
Good list, right? Hard to see how you could go wrong so long as you’ve got a check in every one of those little boxes. But if you write long enough, you’re probably going to wake up one morning and realize that, checked boxes aside, you’ve chosen the wrong protagonist. This is otherwise known as minor characters taking over. Sometimes this is a bad thing. Sometimes you’re going to have to stuff those upstarts back where they belong. But sometimes, you’re going to want to pay attention when your minor characters start clamoring for your attention.
You may start out writing a story with all your focus on one character. But often minor characters will have more wiggle room to grow into interesting and unique personalities. This doesn’t always mean these fascinating minor characters deserve to be protagonists. If they don’t fulfill the second of the requirements I mentioned a second ago, they’ll never be able to carry the story, no matter how interesting they may otherwise be. But if you find yourself repeatedly drawn away from your protagonist and toward a charismatic minor character, you might do well to reconsider whether you’ve chosen the right character for the job.