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What makes a protagonist interesting?


Simple question, just what it says on the tin. In your opinion, what makes a protagonist interesting? What pitfalls have you seen other writers fall into which you would advice people to avoid and what have you seen people do that really interested you?

X Equestris

Complexity. Part of that is making them flawed. Perfect protagonists are boring, as there's virtually never any internal conflict, and they never lose.


Article Team
I love when an author gives a MC a strange hobby or habit. I find it adds some interesting depth.

I loved in American God's when Shadow was always practicing coin tricks and slight of hand, and impressing little kids. It WAS used later in the book though, as a way of defeating the antagonist, so I think that is important.

Another MC i loved was Dean Koontz Odd Thomas, who saw dead people and regularly hung out with Elvis.

My MC in my book grew up in a foster home where the TV was always on day time talk shows, so as a way of coping with the loneliness and fear the little girl started pretending she was being interviewed by day time TV hosts. She's homeless now and lives in the subway, but Jimmy Kimmel regularly shows up in his suit and sits with her while she has her inner monologues.

My time travelling pirate Blackbeard also does coin tricks in the subway (with his pirate hat on the ground to collect change) but he does them with 17th C pieces of 8. He also does sword swallowing and juggling as a way to busk for change.


Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
Understandable characters. The best characters are those whose decisions are congruent with their ideology and background. I don't have to like their way of thinking in the slightest, but i want to fully understand them no matter how complex they are.


I think if I can imagine being that character without much effort it helps.

But being able to project myself is not always enough.

A character can become more interesting as the story progresses, like chipping away the pieces to reach the primal core.

Maybe there is no answer.


Article Team
I don't know. :S

I think it runs along the same line as what makes someone you meet in real life interesting, they're real, with dimension. They are contradictory in some ways, consistent in others. They have passion for something or someone. They are perfectly imperfect. They are human... even when they aren't.
An interesting past. Not necessarily just the ever-popular dark horrible secrets, but it's good to remember the funny childhood moments and other happy memories. There's always at least a small light somewhere in the darkness.
I especially like characters who have their own particular worldview within the novel, one that doesn't match up with the worldview of anyone else in the book. A personal outlook that is different. I like the way this causes tension, conflict with others and the general milieu, novel solutions that others simply can't see, novel mistakes and problems, and the way their outlook represents a kind of singularity in the story/plot/world.

That said, I sometimes like characters who are quite caught up in the general worldview themselves but who are earnest, sincere, dedicated to a goal when the goal seems called-for, and who don't need to establish or find a niche for themselves so much as protect a niche that is already dear to them. Although, come to think of it, these are usually side characters or at least not main protagonists.
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Caged Maiden

Article Team
Characters with secrets. Characters who aren't perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts or maybe even in their own bodies. Characters who don't stop at what is, but ask what could be. i like to give my characters really weird little traits that make them unique. When I was young, my parents disciplined me in the kitchen, and we had wood paneling in that room, and I'd look for patterns in the wood grain while listening to their berating me. I had a character do that once, as if she might find comfort with her eyes tracing the concentric circles on the table. I like those little odd things that maybe one wouldn't think to put into a story, but that define the character as an individual with impulses, quirks, and habits. I think the more people you know and the deeper you get to know them and try to understand the little oddities each individual has, the better you get at understanding your character, sometimes. I've used other things like that from my real life and the people I've known, that struck me as oddly noticeable.


We also like a protagonist who is good at what he does, whatever it is. We also like them to be decisive,propelling through tie story with their decisions, and not always being passive and acted upon. :)

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toujours gai, archie
I want someone to root for. A reason to hope. Conversely, I want the antagonist to be someone I can root against.

I can claim I want them to have flaws, but when I look at the literature I actually like, that doesn't seem to be a big factor. They do need to be interesting, but the range of things that make the character interesting is so wide, it starts to look like *anything* can be made interesting, if done by a good writer.

But I do keep coming back to that matter of hope. I need to hope for the protagonist. I hoped Pierre would somehow survive and find contentment (War and Peace). I hoped Sam Spade would not only solve the case but would serve justice where it needed to be served. I hoped Frodo and Sam would make it home again. Note that not all books delivered my hope untarnished. But I needed that to pull me through the story.

To take a converse example, one reason why I could not finish The Name of the Wind is exactly because I could not root for Kvothe, and I believe this is because I had no reason to hope for him. The book at the start tells me where he winds up. He's so powerful, there's nothing to root for, nothing to dread. There wasn't even any kryptonite. If you don't give me some reason to hope, then it doesn't matter how brilliant your prose, I'm going to run out of enthusiasm. And there are a thousand other books at my shoulder, begging to be read.
I prefer characters that aren't marble statues. I absolutely hated Pygmalion. (Eh? Anyone? Anyone? Oh, nevermind.) But seriously. I like my characters to have depth. Personality. I want to see them struggle, and overcome those struggles to become greater than what they were.


The best characters are proactive. They have a goal and are working towards it, rather than just reacting. That's why villains are often more interesting than the hero, because they are the ones driving the plot, rather than the hero who is just trying to stop him.
The Joker in the Dark Knight was the best character in the movie because all of the other characters were constantly reacting to him, not the other way around. Have your protagonist actually drive the plot rather than just "stop the bad guy." Just my 2 cents.


If you ever watched 'El Cid' worth Charleston Heston, it's one of my favorites because he's a solid, unyielding figure. Everyone around him changes after being impacted by his character. A lot of epic stories home on a solid protagonist's so that a crazy inventive tale can go anywhere. I think having someone enjoyable, excellent or goal-driven is interesting, and helps us forgive the flaws long enough to see them redeem themselves - such as Jack Sparrow, or Cullen Bohannon, or Jessica Jones. :)

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Deleted member 4265

I think characters need the ability to think critically, even if they come to horribly incorrect conclusions. They don't have to be particularly bright, to be honest I really enjoy watching a character bumble around like an idiot as long as they're trying. What I can't stand is when characters never ask the hard questions. I want a character who wonders why me? How did I get caught up in all this? I can't stand characters who someone else tells what to do and they never come up with their own plans.

I also need characters to be sincere. Like I said, they can be horribly naive bumbling idiots but as long as they're trying I'm inclined to like them. I don't necessarily have to believe in their goal or even like them, but I have to feel like they're putting all their effort into it. If the character's not really interested neither am I.