What's Your Protagonist's Special Trait?

What’s Your Protagonist’s “Special” Trait?

This week’s video uses Lesson #3 from Pacific Rim to remind us to look for ways to set our protagonists apart from his peers.

Video Transcript:

Here we go with Lesson #3 from Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. No doubt you’re familiar with the idea of ordinary/extraordinary in a story. We often find ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary characters standing out in an otherwise ordinary world. These extraordinary elements are what make our stories unique and fascinating. I think most of us tend to think our characters are extraordinary or special just because, hey, they’re our characters! But it’s important to really dig deep on this one and figure out ways to make your protagonist stand out from the crowd.

There are a number of ways we can do this, and del Toro exploits several of them in his movie Pacific Rim. Let’s count off the ways in which he makes his protagonist special.

1. His protag possesses special skills. He’s a Jaeger pilot, and, even more specifically, he’s the only remaining pilot of the Mach 2 class of Jaegers.

2. He has a hard-knock backstory, which gives him more to overcome than the other Jaeger pilots, therefore setting him apart from them.

3. He’s a latecomer to the main plan, which makes him more of an outsider, even as it solidifies his importance to the story, since the plan can’t go forward without him.

4. Finally, he is one of only two people who were ever able to pilot a Jaeger solo.

All of these factors, but particularly that last one, make this character stand out from amongst the other similar characters in the story. In many ways, he’s just an ordinary guy. But the very fact that in piloting his Jaeger solo, he was basically able to do the impossible, he becomes special. He did something—even just once—that most people will never be able to do. And that is going to send a little thrill of excitement down most readers’ backs. Consider your character. What sets him apart from his peers? What ability does he possess that they don’t? What makes him special?

What is your protagonist's special trait?

Tell me your opinion: What makes your protagonist special?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Great video. In the novel I’m working on now, the heroine is 25, but she acts much older. She has older friends and she finds her peers, including her identical twin sister, to be very immature – many refer to her as being an “old soul.” This sets her apart from her peers. Also, what makes her unique, is that she’s a widow (at such a young age). Not long after graduating from college, she got married to a preacher who was ten years her junior. He was killed while doing a church ministry in a rough neighborhood.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Wow, she married him when he was fifteen? I’d say that qualifies as unique!

      • Sorry, there was a typo in my last comment. She married him out of college, when she was 21 – he was ten years her SENIOR not JUNIOR. He was in his early thirties. All of that is backstory, but her being a widow at such a young age was a unique factor (at least it is to me).

  2. She is from a different people/group with different customs and values and she is a shapeshifter (like her own people) but no one knows it including her husband.

  3. Oh, my visual mind loves your video! I’m on my way to re-evaluate my protagonist, which means extensive editing. Sigh. I’ll go bury myself in words now. 🙂

  4. Eric is one of two who act according to conscience rather than the social norms.

    Roddy is the one whose ideals are being called into question as his friend’s firmly follow their paths.

  5. I love your whole series on Pacific Rim~ It was one of my favorite movies this year!
    My question is: Where is the line between making your characters special and making them stand out…And your characters becoming the dreaded “Mary-Sue/Gary Stu”? I’m always paranoid that I will be blind to the fact that my special main characters might be annoyingly special to readers. O__O

  6. My protagonist is my aunt and I am writing her life story. I didn’t expect to grapple with plot or characters since I know her story inside and out. Except that I don’t, really. I know the Line of her story, but her motivations can elude me. Her special trait(s)? She is brilliantly unsinkable. She is the proverbial cat with nine lives. Every roadblock, crisis, and nightmare that befalls her is of her own doing and she has gargantuan strength to right herself every time.

    However, as I write her story I am drawing new, different conclusions (or perhaps I would do better at this point to call them speculations) about who she was. I am seeing a psychopath emerging on my pages. It’s one thing to Know the story of a person’s life – you visualize it in sections, spans of time, this era, that era… but to write it down scene after scene, after chapter linking it all together creates a person that you realize you really didn’t know – a person who leaves you sitting stunned in front of your screen.

    They say that an author’s characters develop and become who they are as the story grows so that even the author cannot always control them.

    I’ve begun questioning my aunt’s version of her life. I am struggling to believe that little kimmi’s drowning was accidental; that the suicide pact with a longtime friend, which left him dead and her not so much, was ever truly her intention. My challenge, as I see it, will be to leave my reader wondering those same things. If I can pull that off, which I am not sure that I can, I will deserve the title of ‘Author.’ wish me luck. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland says

      It’s very true that we don’t ever know our stories – or our characters – until we actually start writing them. We can do all the prep work in the world, but until we sit down and start piecing together the minutiae of the scenes and the characters’ inner workings, we don’t *really* know what kind of story we’ve got on our hands.

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