Does your protagonist have a drug problem? Are they a narcissist? Have they never heard of impulse control? If you answered the question in the title with ‘nothing,’ you’re making a mistake. Here’s why:
Some writers find protagonists, or heroes, harder to write than the villains. I fall into this camp. Villains so often seem more interesting, or more engaging, than their heroic counterparts. Darth Vader fascinates me far more than Luke Skywalker. Let’s explore why we love villains and how to add some of that interest to our protagonist.
Villains are flawed. They almost always have a terminal error. The flawed nature of villains makes them more relatable to the writer. Show me the human without flaws and I’ll show you an alien. All humans have flaws, but protagonists are different. Some of them are pure, and some of them are better than average, which makes them hard to relate to. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to this problem. Give your protagonist flaws. Hell, if your protagonist is even more messed up then your villain, that’s a good thing. The more flawed your leading man or woman, the more room they have to grow as people and characters throughout the narrative.
Perfection personified is the last thing you want for your protagonist. Perfect people don’t make mistakes (which will pull your villain towards wanting to invent conflict for them.) Perfect people don’t have emotional baggage or obstacles (which will mean they’re static and unchanging.) Perfect people aren’t relatable (which will mean your reader doesn’t care about them.)
Let me illustrate with an example. Let’s pretend you’re writing a story about a woman who’s trying to kill a porn producer. Let’s pretend this woman succeeds. Which character would you be more pleased to see succeed? The superwoman wondergirl who has literally no flaws and kills the producer just because it’s right? Or the ex-pornstar who, despite problems with heroin, issues with relationships, and suffering from trauma, kills the producer who abused her?
I’m not trying to take a moral stance here. Writing entertaining fiction has little to do with morality. However, there’s no doubt that the character who needs to overcome will always be more interesting than the one who simply exerts her superhuman will. For a character to overcome, they need to have flaws.
I do want to offer an alternative idea and one that I played around with for my second novel. After brainstorming an idea based on the seven sins, I decided I found the seven monsters far more interesting than the girl I planned to take them down. So, since I found the seven antagonists more interesting than the protagonist, I made the book about them instead. If you love your villain and can’t think of an interesting protagonist, try making the villain the main character.
What do you think? Should a protagonist have flaws or should they be the absolute right? Do you like white knights or knights in the mud? Drop in the comments and join the conversation, I’d love to hear from you. Follow for more writing tips and tools from a daily discovery writer.
More writing posts here.