For me, the protagonist is what makes or breaks a story. If I don’t like or relate to the main character, I won’t get on board with the plot. I have stopped reading books when this happened.
The two crucial things to do are to make your protagonist relatable and to have him/her grow throughout the story. Relatable characters are believable.
Two resources I like for developing believable characters are The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, both written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The lists for each trait really help with developing realistic, multifaceted characters.
As a way of ensuring that my protagonist’s thought processes, voice, and reactions feel real, I often endow my main character with part of my personality. For a more in-depth discussion about this method, which some authors view as problematic, read “Who me? Not I!” by Gail Carson Levine. She includes suggestions for writing characters that are nothing like you and some writing prompts designed to help you avoid accidentally writing yourself into your protagonist. My advice is if you choose to write yourself into your main character, make it an intentional choice.
Below are three things that I consider vital when creating a believable protagonist:
- Know what’s motivating your protagonist and let that guide his/her actions and responses (“The Wonder of ‘Why?’: Getting to the Heart of the Matter”).
- Make sure your protagonist is not perfect (“Character Flaws”).
- Show how your protagonist feels through facial expressions and body language (“Writing Books with Emotional Savvy”).