You know when you read a story and the protagonist just jumps out from the page, pulling you in by your short and curlies?
Sometimes you wonder whether you’ll ever create a strong protagonist. One that your readers will love. One that they can relate to and that will inspire them.
We’re writing for children, so inspiration is kind of a big deal, right?
Now, scrape yourself down from the ceiling and listen up. Creating a strong protagonist is important, not impossible.
Follow these tips and you’ll be skipping down the road, hand-in-hand with your protagonist, in no time.
What is a Protagonist?
Quite frankly, they’re the most important character in your story. Without them, you don’t have a story at all. They are the person pursuing a goal and their desire to get it drives the story forward. Your protagonist pursues their goal at all costs.
Your job as a writer is to provide as many obstacles as possible for your protagonist to encounter along the way. They’ll get their goal, but you’re going to make it a bitch of a mission for them. Nothing comes easy in life so why should things be easy for your main character?
You see, your protagonist needs to be relatable. They can’t get everything they want because life isn’t like that and children know it. They’re not stupid. They want a main character that has flaws and self-doubt, just like they do. They want to see some of themselves in your protagonist’s personality and mannerisms.
Don’t make your protagonist perfect. Think Superman and kryptonite if that helps. Your protagonist can be strong and brave and all that other stuff, but they need flaws.
Change is as Good as a Rest
Your main character will start the story as one person and finish it as quite another. The events in the story and the character’s responses to them will change them. Forever. It has to change them. Your main character needs to learn some shit and this shit needs to help them to grow and develop as a person.
If they were shy and quiet, the events of the story might ensure they become brave and confident. If they were lonely and sad, they may gain friends and the happiness that comes with it. Maybe they’re spoilt and bitchy? Well, give them their comeuppance and change them to become humble and kind.
Whatever you do, do not have a character that stays the same. Your book will be a major yawn-fest.
Antagonise Your Darlings
As well as difficult situations and lessons to learn, you need to provide your protagonist with someone who will provide the obstacles willingly. That’s your antagonist. They are there to quite literally antagonise your main character.
Usually, they are the polar opposite of the protagonist and have some of the things your main character wants, e.g. acceptance, popularity, family or wealth. They force your protagonist to face their fears and their inner doubts. They force them to learn those lessons.
An antagonist’s actions will make sure your main character grows and becomes the person they were destined to be. You may have a few antagonists in your story, but there is usually one main one that stays constant throughout.
Top 6 Rules to Remember
In a nutshell, remember these things when creating your protagonist. They:
- Have to change.
- Have to make key decisions that are difficult or dangerous to make.
- Can’t back down, no matter what’s at stake.
- Have to be relatable and loveable for the reader to care about what happens to them.
- Have to move the plot forward with their actions.
- Need a strong antagonist to make them sweat.
So who is your favourite protagonist in children’s literature? Why? What makes them stand out for you? Leave a comment in the box below. See you there!
Books Mentioned in the Video/Useful for Understanding Protagonists
- Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them by John Yorke (aff)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling (aff)
- Mr Stink by David Walliams (aff)
- The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (aff)