By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief for Southern Writers Magazine
Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone with the Wind, released eighty-one years ago in 1936. The story was set in the American South against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. The film tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who married his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, to her marriage to Rhett Butler.
To this day, we remember, Margaret Mitchell, the author and the characters she created. Rhett Butler (we swooned over him), Melanie Hamilton and Ashley Wilkes, but above all we remember the character, Scarlett O’Hara.
Margaret Mitchell wrote Scarlett’s character with so many flaws we couldn’t help but hate her at times . . . she was driven by her on demons, selfish, spoiled, as well as a narcissist; yet she had an inward strength that caused us to root for her.
If you study her character, Scarlett was smart and had a force inside her that defied her being like the women of that era––the women of that day were supposed to take back seats, not go bull headed into matters that belonged in the men’s arena. Yet she did. Her morals played havoc with her mind; she wanted Ashley so bad . Yet, something drew her to Melanie. If you study the character and take all the flaws and all the qualities she had you will find a true protagonist.
One you can get angry with, hate and at the same time love and pull for her to win.
In contrast to Scarlett’s character you have Melanie. It has been said that her character is one of the strongest people in the entire story. She had a clear moral backbone, understanding heart and saw the good in people. Her character is shy and sweet and moves with a grace that warms the hearts of people around her. She is more interested in discussing literature than frilly dresses.
When we are creating our protagonist, we need to strip everything down to the core. Who is our character? What is the core of their desire? What is the conflict?
What drives our character? Is it duty? Is it a goal? That core desire needs to be something that is universal; something everyone can relate to.
At first we think the core desire of Scarlett is to get Ashley for herself. But that isn’t her core desire. That core desire was to save her beloved Tara! She was driven by that and left no stone unturned to achieve that goal. Through this she showed a bravery and courage that surpassed what we thought she had in her.
So, what about your protagonist? What is their core goal!