Triumphantly Real Heroes: Creating Your Protagonist (Gary Medina)

What's Covered?

  • Knowing Your Main Character
  • Where Writers Fall Short
  • How to Overcome These Problems

Knowing Your Main Character

What's the difference between a hero and a protagonist?

A hero is typically an exceptional person with exceptional goals, which are characterized by the values of the society they were created in.

A protagonist (like the hero) is the vehicle in which the consumer navigates a narrative. Their goals are more self-serving.

One is meant to inspire and signal. One is a reflection of the writer's perspective on the world.

Other Purposes of the Main Character

“Birds for Scale”

  • Your MC (main character) is the scale of power/competency in the world you build. 
  • A hero would typically be at the top.
  • A protagonist typically isn't.
  • Opportunities for growth vs. opposition.

“Geocentric” Vibes of Your MC

  • How much can your MC affect the world around them?
  • Typically the less they do, the more relatable and less virtuous they are.
  • Typically the more they do, the less relatable but more virtuous they are.
  • Figuring this out informs how other characters will interact with your MC.

Shaped by Their World

  • Your MC's disposition, power, and even appearance are the results of the world around them.
  • Their virtues and wants can also inform the type of society you're building in your work.
  • They can fall right in line and highlight the mechanics of your world or be in complete opposition (still highlighting your world).

The Memification of the Modern Hero

  • The Hero's Journey (or the Monomyth)
  • Just a Vehicle
  • The Superman Effect

The Hero's Journey (or the Monomyth)

Before Joseph Campbell's “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” the Hero's Journey was discovered and noted by Edward Burnett Tylor.

Tylor was an anthropologist, not a writer. He made an observation of the recurring themes in mythology and narratives with the same purposes. Inform ideals, ride a power fantasy, uphold morals.

Since Campbell's work was published, the monomyth has been consciously applied to fictional works. Lucas himself acknowledged Campbell's theory and its influence when he wrote Star Wars.

Just a Vehicle

Since myth, MCs have been used as vehicles for power fantasies.

These vehicles don't have much depth, save for tacked-on traits and “hot” flaws.

The characters around them have heavy to extreme reactions when they are around. Ultimately, they have the power to effect change in their world. No one is allowed to be indifferent.

Typically their villainous counterparts are either just as uninteresting or much more interesting than the MC.

Nothing wrong with it, but we've seen it enough and you have had enough.

The Superman Effect

Their flaws or weaknesses are there to raise the stakes and serve as a plot device. It doesn't really inform the MC's personality or moral failings. (Think of Kryptonite. Originally, nothing could beat Superman, so something had to be created to give him a weakness, a flaw. He was too perfect.)

Hard to relate to a god in a world of mortals. (When your MC is too strong/competent/put together.)

Their moral code wins out against every opponent with an opposing view. (Truth, Justice. and the American Way.)

How to Fix This

Bullets through the Armor

  • Two Sides of the Same Coin
  • Dousing “Hot” Flaws
  • Making the Hero Feel Real (Ugly Them Up)

Two sides of the Same Coin

What determines who is right and who is wrong is where the lens is focused. You are the lens!

What informs an MC's view of right and wrong depends on the past and the world you created for them.

Don't be afraid to dangle, stretch, and pull these ideas and their idea of what an upright world is supposed to look like.

What makes a villain and a hero can even be the difference of one bad day.

Dousing “Hot” Flaws

A “hot” flaw is a tacked-on trait used to make an MC “feel” real. (You'll see this often in romance.)

Their hot flaw informs how they operate but not how it affects their effectiveness.

Comes from the subconscious fear of making the author's creation look weak. Which comes from . . . 

Before Continuing...

Making the Hero Feel Real (Ugly Up Your MC)

Think about the flaws within yourself that make you cringe, and stab your MC with it.

Have people around them criticize their views, actions, and beliefs. Thus, they bounce and stretch to the rules of your world.

Show how their ideals are wrong or at least wrong in different cases and right in others.

Don't be afraid to psychoanalyze yourself in the pages.

Writers are a breed of psychologist that run experiments on their characters.

After Their Flaws Are Informed and Developed . . .

Their flaws inform how they view the world, how they interact with other characters, and how they proceed to a natural conclusion.

You are in full control and all that it asks is that you connected the points together.

A part of your story involves your MC overcoming, succumbing, or coexisting with those flaws.



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The Yukon Writers’ Society is an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers in Yukon, Oklahoma. They meet biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their books. The Yukon Writers’ Society was founded in 2016 and provides free meetings for its members. Their group anthology, Shivers in the Night, was published in April 2018.