“Sometimes you’re the protagonist and someone else is the hero.”
The protagonist is the very first thing I figure out when I think of a new story. How do I do that?
The first thing I do is think about this imaginary person and draw them on paper or on my computer.
What do they look like? Tall, short, long hair, short hair, hair color, skin tone, physique etc.
I wonder about their personality: do they like their appearance? Are they self-confident or insecure? What are the things they like and hate about themselves? And what are the things they like and hate in general?
Why do they hate a certain thing? Did something happen to them? How can I relate to their experience?
I keep going on with these questions, until I feel that the boy or girl I have in mind is a person rather than a character in a book.
Dig out the dirt
I don’t know if this works just for me, but I need to make a connection with my protagonist to keep writing. This means to get really deep into their past and dig out the dirt. I want to outline the most embarrassing things about their life and the things that made them suffer the most: unrequited loves, fear of abandonment, the loss of a loved one, complicated relationships, mistakes and secrets… I want to feel their pain and throw it on the pages.
I don’t care about having a perfect character: actually, the more messed up the better. I want people, not heroes.
Give them a place to go
Sometimes this characters have a purpose or a dream, and sometimes they’re lost. No matter where they start, the most important thing for me is that they don’t end up in the same place where they started. The growth of my characters is usually my story. The plot is then the tool or instrument which will bring them to where they need to go.
A practical example
I’ll give you an example of my character creation process using the protagonist of my WIP “A five-minute kiss”, Liam.
Liam is 16; he’s a shortie and has short, red hair, white skin and brown eyes.
His height is not an issue for him, but he is bothered when people tease him because of his hair color. He tries to hide it though, because he wants to look tough. He’s serious about his studies and considers himself smarter than his classmates. He is bullied but he refuses to give up to the bullies and keep a low profile; instead he talks back and he’s not afraid to show that he thinks he’s better than them.
He can’t help it, because he has to be proud for something. He has to feel he’s the best at least at studying, because otherwise his life would be too lame. But despite feeling this way, he lacks the courage to do any significant thing to change his situation.
He’s blocked in this lonely role because he’s been hurt: he’s gay and a few years before he had come out to his best friend, whom betrayed him and spread rumors about him, which led to the bullying. Since then Liam’s been scared to trust anyone, afraid to misunderstand their feeling toward him.
So he can’t move on, but neither he wants to admit defeat.
He needs to find the courage to change and try trusting people again.
So, what do you think? Liam’s story is currently being edited by my editor so hopefully it’ll see the light soon!
Do you think this character creation process works? Let me know if you do it differently or if you want to try it!