Why Bullying (Your Protagonist) Is a Good Thing

When you watched the class bully shove the school nerd into his locker and hold his notebook out of reach in high school, you were probably the person looking on and wanting to do something to stop the situation.

Given enough courage, you would rush into save the victim. On no terms would you actually join in the bullying.

But with writing, it’s different. Instead of saving the victim, an author must join in on the bullying. Yes, I am asking you to shove your main character into his locker and hold his notebook out of reach–for the sake of your story and success. Yes, I want you to be that person.

Why am I encouraging this? Let’s take a look at why bullying your main character is a good thing.

Your Protagonist Learns More

I would never advise bullying as a means of parenting, but when it comes to an author/main character relationship, holding the resolution out of reach, tossing it around, and roughing up your main character is crucial.

If you rush in to save your main character every time something goes wrong, he’s going to constantly rely on you. He’ll never learn how to throw out witty comments or understand how to defend himself.

When your main character doesn’t rely on you to save the day, he’ll learn how to solve the issue on his own.

Readers Will Cheer For Your Protagonist

Once you rush in to save the day, the fun ends and everyone turns to leave. If you choose to play the bully, however, onlookers can root for your main character and get more emotionally involved in the action.

Say, for instance, Big Buck steals Little Timmy’s notebook and holds it above his head. The audience is hoping Timmy will teach Big Buck a lesson and get his notebook back. When you step in, grab the notebook from Buck’s hands, and give it back to Timmy, everyone shrugs and goes, “Okay, well, that was… fun.”

But imagine you take the notebook from Buck’s hands and taunt Timmy with it instead. Maybe he reaches for it, and in one slick move, you toss it back to Buck.

Now the audience has even more to cheer for. They’re thinking, “Oh snap, this just got interesting. You can do it, Timmy!”

That’s the kind of cheering your readers will do when you keep the resolution and answers from your main character’s grasp.

You Will Create a More Interesting Story

In the first scenario (in which you play the hero), no one is going to think much of it when retelling the story. “It’s just like any other day,” they’ll think.

In the second situation, things get quite interesting. Maybe Timmy gets so worn out from playing Monkey in the Middle that he has an asthma attack and has to be taken out of school on a stretcher. Perhaps he gets so angry with you and Buck that he uses his secret kung-fu skills and kicks your butt.

There are plenty of scenarios that could play out, but if you save the day before the story has a chance to deliver, nothing interesting is going to happen.

How to Bully Your Protagonist

When I say “bully your protagonist” I’m not telling you to create characters who bully him. I’m telling you to bully him through the situations you write. Here’s how:

1. Keep the answers out of reach and make him seek them on his own.

2. Hold the tools for solving the problem from his grasp.

3. Add some conflict. Make sure something goes wrong as he’s pursuing the solution.

4. Let him solve his own problems instead of throwing in the key to saving him.

The Bottom Line

As an author, you have to hold things out of your protagonist’s reach in order to build his character, enhance your story, and make your readers care. Conflict is a good thing in a story, and bullying your protagonist by pushing him around can help create this conflict.

Tell me your opinion: How are you making solutions difficult for your protagonist in your work-in-progress?

Why Bullying Your Protagonist Is a Good Thing

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About Alicia Rades | @AliciaRades

Alicia Rades is freelance writer, blogger, and editor. When inspiration strikes, she is also an author. Alicia has a short ebook, a poetry collection, and a novella under her belt and is thrilled with the release of her first full-length novel Fire in Frost.

Comments

  1. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Alicia!

  2. This is a really great analogy. Sometimes writers fall in love with their characters, but it’s got to be a tough love at best if the story is going to work.

    (Several of my analogies also include Little Timmy. Poor kid. He’s got it rough.)

  3. I think this is a must read for any first time writers!!! Great article!

    I am in the middle of writing my first book and my editor sent it back to with the same notes on page one. She said that “Just because Vince is the protagonist doesn’t mean his life has to be easy.”I was crushed when I saw that note but now when I look back at it, that was what my story needed. Now I am glad I made the changes!

  4. All very sound advice, thank you. However, in my novel, “He Was Weird,” my main character has Asperger’s Syndrome and lacks the social skills to solve the bullying he is suffering, which is why in the end he resorts to shooting up his school. Feedback from readers all say that the time that part of the story comes around, they are all thinking, “I don’t blame this boy.”

  5. Very interesting read. You explain about protagonists so well. We seldom ever get into the heads of these characters enough. What you said here about conflict is pure gold. Thank you for a great blog! Cheers!

    Cassy

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  1. […] all feel this way and do this as well, but then I read another great article by K.M. Weiland about Bullying Your Protagonist, and it helped to bring home this realization all the […]

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