Welcome to part 2 of my creating characters series. In this section, I will be looking at how to create memorable protagonists, and why you might not want to create a protagonist that is too memorable. Before you get into this you might want to check out part 1.
First, my focus is on genre fiction. I personally write horror, thriller, science fiction, and fantasy. Mystery has some specific things that only really apply to it. A mystery protagonist would really not work in other genre’s, but even there some common rules apply.
The first thing I will tackle with the protagonist is motivation. I mentioned it briefly in part 1, but I will be going much deeper into it now.
Your protagonist needs a goal. It needs to be clear and actionable. Luke from Star Wars has clear goals. He wants to rescue the princess, then he wants to destroy the Death Star. These are clear and obvious goals. You can tell when those goals have been completed, you can tell if a given action is getting him closer to the goals or further from them. They also give him a clear path of action he can take. Rey in The Force Awakens doesn’t have clear goals. She wants to be a good person, she wants to help. She feels static, she feels like she is just drifting, going along with whatever is happening. She is never moving toward something. It is one of the reasons she bothers me as a character and part of why she gets so much hate.
Another trait that matters a great deal is being in the position to take action. Star Trek is a huge culprit here. Captain Kirk should not have been part of anything ever. He should have been the person in the worst position to take action since he had responsibilities to the rest of the crew and to the ship. The captain would be a very poor choice for the main character as he is typically not able to act. Contrast that with how Picard was handled in TNG. Picard was not the main character, he was part of an ensemble, and in any given episode the main might be Riker, Data, Wesley Crusher, Worf, etc. Picard was only the lead when the episode forced it on him (every Q episode for example) or when it at least began with diplomacy. He was almost never the guy appearing on the surface of a planet with a phaser in hand.