Protagonist Plug & Play — A Simple Approach to Character Crafting
As writers, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Many writers—myself included—spend too much of our precious time spinning our wheels instead of going on the journey. Take character development for example. There are so many iconic and memorable heroes out there in film and literature and they are as diverse as the day is long. But for all their uniqueness and diversity, they have much more in common than they do that makes them different.
Whether you’re trying to write the next Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter, I’ve put together a little system to help you select key personality traits to define your protagonist’s inner self. These qualities are important because they drive every decision your character makes. They influence dialogue, internal monologue, and how your character responds to crisis, conflict, and change. Let’s simply call it Protagonist Plug & Play, and here’s how it works:
Step 1: Pick Three Core Values from this table:
Step 2: Pick Two Strengths from this table:
|ABLE TO INFLUENCE
|HAS POWER or WEALTH
|GOOD UNDER PRESSURE
|DOESN'T GIVE UP
Step 3: Pick three vices or weaknesses from this table:
|LEAPS BEFORE LOOKNG
|LAPSES IN JUDGEMENT
|TOO SLOW OR TOO QUICK TO TRUST
Step 4: Pick your hero’s greatest fear from this table:
|FEAR OF FAILURE
|FEAR OF DEATH
|FEAR OF BEING ALONE
|FEAR OF FLYING
|FEAR OF BEING EMBARRASSED
|FEAR OF WATER
|FEAR OF HEIGHTS
|FEAR OF PAIN
|FEAR OF CONFINEMENT
|FEAR OF BLOOD
|FEAR OF BEING WRONG
|NAME YOUR OWN
If you’re like me, you might be tempted to load up on core values and strengths, because more is better right? Wrong. If you do this, you’ll end up sabotaging the process. To use a mixology metaphor, if you’re striving to make the perfect Vodka Collins but add your favorite rum, gin, tequila, and triple sec to the mix, then you’ll end up with a Long Island Ice Tea…not at all the cocktail you were striving for.
Once you’ve made your selections, it’s time to plug and play. Put them all together and write a single page character summary. For a truly immersive experience, write it as a journal entry in the first person—almost as if it is a private confession where you, as the character, are admitting these deeply personal truths to yourself for the first time. And, THIS IS IMPORTANT, be loyal to your selections. Yes, people change but change is not easy. Core values, fears, and weaknesses are fundemental, and they should profoundly impact your character’s narrative for the long haul.
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