Thursday, June 20, 2019

Writing the Messy Protagonist



By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine


I recently flew through, The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian. The story was quite turbulent from the first page. I was attracted to Bohjalian’s writer rule breaking of telling the story without much dialogue. This “writer rule-breaking” I’ll save for another blog post.

I was intrigued by Bohjalian’s flight attendant protagonist. Flat out, she’s without a doubt one of the messiest protagonists I’ve read about. Her risky behavior paired with her alcoholic promiscuity does not present as character traits that would appeal to readers as a protagonist. 

After reading Chris’s book, I decided she made for one of the most interesting protagonists, I’ve read recently. There were times I hated the stupidity of this character, but I stuck with her and she won me over. After all, everyone in real life is flawed, so why wouldn’t our characters in a book be flawed?

Some author’s protagonists have problems they resolve throughout the book’s story. Often, a weak protagonist is saved by another character which I find a yawner and not authentic. I’m not a fan of reading about the “knight saving the day on a white horse.”

Kristen Kieffer writes on the blog, Well-Storied and has a great article on “33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters.” You can view the article in its entirety at this link
Here’s Kristen’s character list is:
“-GIVE THEM A GOAL
-GIVE THEM A MOTIVATION
-GIVE THEM PURPOSE
-GIVE THEM A FEAR
-GIVE THEM A FLAW
-GIVE THEM A HISTORY
-GIVE THEM A PRESENT STORY
-GIVE THEM A PERSONALITY
-GIVE THEM INTERESTS
-GIVE THEM A QUIRK
-GIVE THEM A NAME
-GIVE THEM A DESIRE
-GIVE THEM A LOVE
-GIVE THEM AGENCY
-MAKE THEM COMPLEX
-MAKE THEM UNIQUE
-MAKE THEM RELATABLE
-MAKE THEM FAIL
-MAKE THEM SUFFER
-MAKE THEM SWEAT
-FIND THEIR IDENTITY
-FIND THEIR PERSPECTIVE
-FIND THEIR TYPE
-FIND THEIR LANGUAGE
-FIND THEIR ATTITUDE
-FIND THEIR HAPPY PLACE
-FIND THEIR SUPPORT
-FIND THEIR GUT
-FIND THEIR BANE
-FIND THEIR REFUGE
-FIND THEIR REDEMPTION
-FIND THEIR GLORY
-FIND THEIR STORY”

It’s not a surprise that Chris Bohjalian’s, flight attendant protagonist had each one of these attributes for his character. She’s just a mess, who you loathe one minute and sympathize with the next minute. 

So what do you do to keep readers interested in your protagonist? How messy are they?


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